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Life of the Party

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“You’re ridiculous. Are you, or are you not, coming to Aniyah’s birthday party wearing the suit?”

Steve opened his eyes and tilted his head up off the bench of the Quinjet, leathery energy bar crammed in his mouth, half of it sticking out like a foil wrapped duckbill. He chewed pointedly.

“Don’t try that with me; you can’t hide from this conversation behind whey-based food substitutes,” Sam told him. He was sitting back in the bench opposite, boots propped up on Steve’s duffel, as unimpressed as ever. Steve felt a bloom of annoyed affection; after two years in the future feeling lost and alien, it sometimes still struck him how damn lucky he had been to find Sam, who understood him on a level he hadn’t known even in his own time. “The correct answer is yes.”

It sure would be nice to get away with something around him for once, though. Steve tried on his most innocent, patriotic look. “M’mouf’sfull, Sham,” he said around the energy bar. “N’m healin. Shupersherum. Can’talk. Gotta chew firdy-free times.”

“I’ve seen you choke those down like a python unhinging its jaw to eat an entire litter of pigs,” Sam told him. “You’re only chewing because you think I think you have table manners and will leave you alone when your mouth is full.”

Oh well. Instead of answering, Steve opened his mouth wide and stuck out his tongue, then chewed the rest of the bar with his mouth open like a dog.

“You are ridiculous and disgusting, and neither of those are going to save you from my niece,” Sam said, leaning back against his own gear and relaxing as if the argument was already decided and over. “I am going to win her fifth birthday just like I won Christmas, and Steve, I’m not above using Captain America to do it.”

“You can’t win Christmas,” Steve told him piously around another protein bar. This one was chocolate flavored, and tasted about as chocolatey as the previous one had tasted of vanilla. “Christmas is about the spirit of giving and goodwill towards man. It’s about generosity and family.”

“I showed up in full uniform, brought her a set of goggles that let her see through walls, and took her for a ride in Tony Stark’s flying car,” Sam said. “Don’t get all high and mighty, I won the hell out of Christmas.”

Steve had to admit that Sam was probably right.

“I’m not sure how seeing Uncle Sam’s friend Steve in his striped pajamas is going to top that,” Steve argued, mostly on autopilot by that point. He’d pretty much given up already, and was wondering instead if dislocating his own jaw would be worth it if it could help get the awful protein bars down faster. Captain America’s healing caloric intake was demanding enough that he would eat dead rats if it made the gaping hunger ebb a little, but he didn’t particularly enjoy it.

“Do not,” Sam said, pointing at him. “Captain America and The Falcon are going to show up to Aniyah’s party, parkour off the roof, let her throw the shield that actually clocked Red Skull in the face in front of her entire preschool class, and then I’m going to give her a life-size robotic Redwing of her very own. And I am going to win the fifth birthday.”

“The shield is actually pretty heavy,” Steve offered, mouth full of a combo of chocolate cardboard and vanilla cardboard. It was not an improvement on eating them individually. “I don’t think an unenhanced five-year-old could even lift it.”

“So Captain America is going to help her,” Sam told him sternly. “Keep up.”

“I dunno, Sam,” Steve said, biting his lip. One last try. “I just…I’m not just Captain America. It’s uncomfortable when—”

No,” Sam admonished. “Do not go all ‘aw shucks, I wish people saw little Stevie Rogers’ on me. I was not born yesterday, and your defense for eating the last danish just this morning was ‘I’m physically incapable of making selfish choices, Sam, I’m Captain America.’ You are going to this birthday, you are reciting the pledge or whatever does it for preschoolers, and I am beating anything Sarah got for Aniyah out of the water.”

Steve stuffed in another three bars at once, swallowed, and finally laid his last card out on the table. “Every time I go to your sister’s place, she tries to set me up with every woman she’s ever met.”

“Well, yeah,” Sam agreed, unmoved. He waved a hand in Steve’s general direction. “That’ll happen when you show up to dinner looking like a lonely golden retriever who just wants to be loved. People want to fix it for you.”

Steve sighed and slumped back against the bench, defeated.

“Maybe try looking like you can stand your own company at the party,” Sam offered helpfully. “You could practice in the mirror right now. She might only try to set you up with, like, three of the moms there if you get really good at it.”

***

“Maybe also try to look a little bit less like you’re terrified of anyone under four feet tall,” Sam suggested as they got out of the car later. “It’s not very heroic.”

Steve nodded absently and looked around. Sarah lived in the suburbs, where there was lots of space for kids and dogs and gardens, but you paid for it by living in the suburbs. Sam and his sister bickered about it most visits, with Sam arguing for the diversity, art, food, music, etc. in the city, and Sarah pointing out that the last time she lived there with him, there were drunks breaking bottles and singing about piss and vaginas under her window at 2 am.

Steve figured they were both right and tried to stay neutral.

“But I am terrified of anyone under four feet tall,” Steve said after a moment, shifting his gear into a more comfortable position. “Do you think if I hide behind the shield, they won’t notice me?”

“Ha ha. No, and you can’t hide behind sarcasm, either,” Sam told him, slapping Steve on the shoulder and giving him an encouraging squeeze before ringing the bell. “Preschoolers can’t actually hurt you. This is just another reason Sarah wants to find someone to take care of your pathetic ass.”

Steve could clearly hear the joyous shrieks of at least twenty-five separate children in the backyard, along with the crashing thumps of a children’s party in full swing. It was not particularly encouraging.

Sarah opened the door wearing a yellow dress and a smug smile. “I,” she said slowly, definitely, “win.”

“Sarah,” Sam countered, pointing out Steve with his thumb, “I brought Redwing and Captain America. Whatever Target knockoff you’ve got ain’t gonna cut it.”

“You’re too late,” Sarah sang, cocking a hip and grinning. “You’ve been replaced. She has a new favorite superhero now, and it ain’t you.” She leaned in close to Sam. “I. Win,” she repeated.

“New favorite superhero,” Sam repeated. “New favorite superhero? Did Tony come over and pass out free Starkpads?”

Behind her, through the back windows, Steve could make out several children flinging themselves bodily at a wide assortment of wedge-shaped athletic cushions laid out on a tarp in the grass. A man dressed in what looked like a suit made entirely of black leather straps was reacting to each one with total amazement.

“Winter Soldier,” Sarah said smugly. “Superhero themed party talent. He charges by the hour.”

“You know, kids,” Steve heard from the backyard, “one of the most common threats a superhero has to face is inside an active volcano! We’re going to have to work on your evasion skills, so for the next five minutes, the floor is lava!” This was met by a sudden spike in both volume and pitch from the small children as they scrambled onto every raised surface they could find and immediately launched themselves right back off.

“I’ve never seen actual lava in my entire life,” Steve said, vaguely offended.

“You got a superhero impersonator for The Falcon’s niece’s birthday party,” Sam said, incredulous. “The Falcon, who is an actual superhero.”

“Do you make mega balloon laser guns? Do you do the chicken dance on command and call it the Super Boogie?” Sarah asked, still giddy with triumph. Sam pushed past her into the house, which was littered with plastic swords, satin and taffeta capes, and yes, several multicolored laser rifles made out of balloons. “Because I don’t think you do.”

“How much did you pay for a fake superhero when you have a real one right here?” Sam demanded, and Sarah stepped back to let Steve in. He ducked his head at her as he walked past, trying not to step on anything that might break.

“Not half as much as I happily would have,” Sarah said, following them out onto the patio and into the backyard, and the Winter Soldier turned at the sound of the door, smiled, and…

And…

And that’s when Steve stopped paying attention to everything else around him.

Steve was vaguely aware that Sam was still complaining, but Steve didn’t hear—he spent about five straight minutes fixated like a mouth-breathing creeper on the Winter Soldier’s lips instead. Steve wanted to draw them. He wanted to bite them. He wanted to be anywhere but a five-year-old’s birthday party, because there was no appropriate way to deal with this situation here. Not surrounded by children, and definitely not wearing the full Captain America tactical pajamas.

But the man’s face. And his hair. The way he moved. He was beautiful, everything about him was beautiful, and then he looked Steve in the eye and winked.

Steve snapped his jaw shut and hoped no one had noticed.

“Huh,” said Sam, who definitely had.

“Hey!” said The Winter Soldier. “Captain America! I didn’t know you were going to be here!”

It was so casual that for a moment, Steve panicked. Had Steve met him before? Had they worked together on one of those endless parades of hospital visits and charity dinners? They all blurred together, but surely he would have noticed The Winter Soldier. Surely.

“Oh my god,” Sam muttered. “He doesn’t recognize us. He thinks we’re like him. He thinks he was double booked.”

“And he is thrilled,” Sarah assured them. “That man has been running around dialed to eleven with twenty-five preschoolers for the last hour. He’s only got another five minutes on his contract and he’s still going strong, because he is a superhero.”

“For an hour?” Sam asked, turning to glare at her. Steve let out a sigh of relief—he’d been starting to sweat under Sam’s considering stare. “You told me Aniyah’s party was at three!”

“Yeah,” Sarah said, “so I could win her fifth birthday.”

“Hey man,” The Winter Soldier said, bounding up to the deck like a daydream in bondage gear. Steve spent a long time noticing how his costume wasn’t padded at all, and when he finally swung his gaze back upwards, Sam was looking at him knowingly. “They’re going whole hog for this one, huh? I gotta admit, I wore the kids out pretty bad, I didn’t realize you were coming.”

“That’s…fine,” Steve managed. He risked a glance at the kids, and did a double take. “Are they okay?”

“What?” The Soldier turned to look. The children were splayed across the grass, facedown and unmoving, like their strings had all been suddenly cut. Or like someone had gassed the place. “Oh, no, they’re just playing dead fish. First one who moves is out. It’s good for when you need a second to catch your breath.”

“That works?” Sarah asked, amazed. “There’s no way that works.”

“They love it,” The Soldier said. “Who knows kids, right? Anyway, do you want some time to get set up, or do you start right in? What are you leading with, I’ll wind ‘em up for you.”

Steve glanced around. Every adult at the party knew exactly who he was, and exactly what was happening, and was watching with undisguised delight. Some of them were recording.

“Uh,” he said, the color rising to his face. “I don’t…this is my first birthday party. I usually just shake their hands at the hospital and sign autographs.”

“Ah,” The Soldier said, trying to look nonjudgmental and failing abysmally. “Well. That could work, too.”

“I’m a friend of the family,” Steve added desperately, trying not to look like quite such a disappointment. “Sam here asked me as a favor.”

The Soldier looked at him thoughtfully, then at Sam. Sam glared.

“If you pay me for another hour,” The Soldier said after a long, thoughtful pause, “I will save you.”

“Yes, please,” Steve begged.

***

When Bucky got home, Natalia was already curled on the couch with Bucky’s laptop and a cup of hot chocolate. Bucky let his gear fall inside the entryway, shuffled out of his boots and jacket, then leaned back against the door and sighed. “I met my future husband today,” he announced. He dropped his keys into the cup on the table and kicked the hockey bag stuffed full of his costume and props in the direction of the laundry. “He’s a Captain America cosplayer and his name is actually Steve. He is perfect in every way, and I’ve already decided on the tux I’m marrying him in.”

Natalia ignored him, but there was another mug of cocoa on the benchtop, still steaming. Bucky padded over and took a sip.

“I saved his life and gave him my number,” Bucky continued, assuming that if she hadn’t gotten up and walked away mid-sentence, she was probably listening. He started stripping out of the black athletic wear he wore under his suit. “Don’t worry, I was super subtle.”

Natalia’s eyes flicked up at him over his computer.

“So subtle,” Bucky promised.

She stared at him.

“Yeah, okay, I told him to call me if he wanted to book a more private party,” Bucky admitted. “He sort of looked like a stunned deer, so I clarified that the party would be in my pants. So, only kind of subtle, I guess. Nice hair today, by the way,” he added, nodding to Natalia’s big golden curls, bouncy and perfect. He really wished she would tell him where she got her wigs from, but she was still pretending they were real. She didn’t do anything with them that he could tell, other than look stunning and natural in them, but he made his living with costumes. If he ever got her to admit she wore them, maybe he could get his hands on a few.

Natalia rolled her eyes and went back to the computer.

“You should have seen him, though.” Bucky stuffed the athletic gear into the washing machine before heading back to the kitchen in search of food. “He looked just like Captain America in this suit, it had to be custom. I could only tell the difference ‘cause Steve is actually prettier.” Bucky rooted around in the fridge, shoving ancient takeout containers around. “Do we have anything but cheddar in here that won’t make me sick?”

“Pickles,” Natalia offered. Then, “There’s not a lot of people prettier than Captain America.”

“That used to be the tragedy of my life,” Bucky agreed, “but I swear, he really is. Bigger shoulders, too, but the same waist. It was a religious experience. I was having trouble paying attention to anything else. And he’s…” Bucky hesitated and bit his lip to keep the stupid smile from tugging it up. “He’s just…sweet. He was just really sweet. The whole time, Natalia.”

Natalia definitely caught the smile. She looked at him, and there was something fond and pleased in the expression, before she cleared her throat and went back to the laptop. “You know the floor’s not actually lava, right?” she asked, typing away. “You can’t save people from it.”

Bucky stared hard at the cheese and pickles, then shrugged and pulled them both out. “No, dude showed up in costume with fuck all planned, and had to follow me. Apparently, he usually just does charity work at hospitals and doesn’t need anything but the costume.”

Natalia made a ‘yikes’ face.

“Right?” Bucky said, rummaging in the cupboards for the cereal. “Those kids would have eaten him alive.”

Natalia raised one perfectly sculpted eyebrow. “You did the thing where you try to hang as many children off him as you can before he breaks, didn’t you.”

I ran out of places to hang the kids off of,” Bucky agreed, going still with awe at the memory. “He just took the weight like it was nothing. I am going to spend the rest of my life with this man.”

Natalia sighed and looked back at the computer, scrolling through news feeds now.

“I got a shit ton of calls today, too,” Bucky mused, dumping the cheese, pickle slices, and cereal into a bowl and going to town. Natalia looked appalled. “Like ten new appointments, just on the train back from the storage locker. Half of ‘em wanted Cap, though, which, I’m not gonna get into that legal nightmare, no way. But a shit ton nonetheless. Oh, hey, another one,” he said, pulling his phone out of his back pocket and sliding to answer. “Hello, Winter Soldier Party Talent. How can I help you?”

Natalia pretended like she wasn’t listening in, but very clearly was. Bucky still hadn’t worked out how she could hear the other end of all his phone conversations, but he didn’t much mind, since he would usually give her the play-by-play later. Neither of them were getting much from this one, though—the guy on the other end was mostly just shouting.

Bucky frowned. “Sir? Sir. I don’t think you understand. Winter Soldier is a birthday talent company. I’m not actually a real superhero.”

Natalia was watching him openly now, grinning wide.

“Sir, if you’ve been robbed, you really should be calling the police. No, seriously, I’m not a real superhero. I do birthdays for kids,” Bucky said. Natalia returned to her scrolling, then froze, staring at the screen like it had grown arms and flipped her off. “Yes, I know Captain America is a real superhero. No, I can’t send him. I’m hanging up now, sir, you should call 911.”

Natalia continued staring at the computer, her face like stone. She clicked, once.

“Jeez,” Bucky said, staring at his phone. “You’d think people would get it. I haven’t had one of those in a while.”

“James,” Natalia said, voice tight, “You fucking moron.”

Bucky frowned at her. “I’m a moron? This guy thought I was a real superhero. Who hears a name as dumb as ‘The Winter Soldier’ and thinks ‘actual superhero’?”

Natasha held the laptop up and pointed. There was a picture of him next to the perfect cosplayer, obviously shot on cameraphone by one of the parents. The tagline said, “CHILDREN’S PARTY PERSONALITY SCHOOLS CAP ON SUPERHERO KNOWHOW.”

It was in the New York Times.

“Oh,” Bucky said after a while. “Huh. I guess he didn’t have bigger shoulders, then.”

How did you not notice,” Natalia hissed, teeth bared, “that you were coaching Captain America on how to make balloon animals?”

“Oh no,” Bucky said, reality dawning on him. “Oh no. Natalia, I gave Captain America my phone number and told him to book a party in my pants.”

Natalia stared at him in appalled wonder, the way someone might at a baby panda who had fallen down the bamboo stairs for the thirty-third time.

Bucky’s phone rang again. He answered on autopilot, still staring at the article. “Winter Soldier party talent,” he rasped. “We aren’t actually real superheroes, and we aren’t affiliated with Captain America. If this is an emergency, please dial 911.”

“Oh. Um,” came a voice on the other end. “I’m. Usually 911 calls me instead?”

The pickle bowl hit the floor at Bucky’s feet.

“Uh,” Bucky stuttered. “I. Hi.”

“Hi,” answered Captain Fucking America.

“Hi,” said Bucky again, still completely unable to come up with anything else.

“I was—hi?” said Captain America, sounding maybe a little panicked. “Hi.”

“Yes. Hi,” Bucky said, trying to hold on to something he was certain of in this conversation. “Hello.”

Natalia snapped Bucky’s laptop closed, leaned over the back of the couch, and stared straight at him with the most disgusted, incredulous look Bucky had ever seen on her face.

Bucky covered the phone. “I told him we could have a party in my pants,” he hissed, stricken. He had no clue how to continue. “I told the most amazing man in the history of our country to call me for a party in my pants!”

“And now he is CALLING YOU,” Natalia whispered back, gesturing furiously at the phone. “You fucking DONUT.”

“Donuts,” Bucky blurted into the phone as soon as he uncovered it. “I mean. Wait—”

“Yes!” Steve agreed, sounding relieved. “Yes, great. Donuts.”

“What?” Bucky said, finally gaining back enough control of his limbs to put down the orphaned spoon he’d been holding. Natalia gave a pointed look towards the mess of cheesy pickle cereal he left behind him on the hardwood. “No. Yes. Donuts. Absolutely.”

Natalia flopped back down on the couch and covered her face with her hands.

“I know a—I mean, there’s a place near me in Brooklyn with really good donuts,” Captain America said. “I haven’t, I guess I don’t actually know if they’re any good but it looks…nice? It looks nice.”

“I love donuts,” was what Bucky came back with. Natalia picked up one of the cushions she’d knocked off earlier and tried to smother herself with it.

“I love donuts too!” Steve Goddamn Rogers said, chipper with an edge of anxiety.

There was the sound of a short scuffle on the other end of the line. Bucky could vaguely make out someone saying “Let him do it himself,” and someone else saying “Did you hear him?”

There was another rustle, and then, “Steve is trying to ask you on a date,” someone said. It took Bucky a long moment to realize it was probably Iron Man. “And I am trying really hard to let him be a big boy, but you two are physically painful to experience.”

On the couch, Natalia nodded behind her pillow.

“Jarvis is sending you the address of this stupid donut place now,” Iron Man continued. “Wear nice clothes and show up Saturday at two. Got it?”

“Yeah,” Bucky said, “okay.”

The line went dead. Bucky took the phone from his ear and stared at it.

“Congratulations,” Natalia said, voice muffled by the pillow. “You haven’t even gone out with Captain America yet, and all his friends already think you’re a moron.”

“What do you wear,” Bucky managed, “to an accidental donut date?

***

Steve was so lost when it came to this.

He hadn’t known what to do in his own time when you liked someone, and now everything was different; things that had never mattered were important now, and things that had been necessary weren’t anymore, and Steve didn’t even know which was which. The terrifying reality for Steve Rogers was that now every single choice he made had the potential to be the wrong one. Did it matter when you showed up? Were you supposed to be late, on time, early? Or did no one care? Did it matter if you rolled your sleeves up? Did it matter how many buttons you did up on your shirt? Did it matter If you sat first, or they sat first, or where you sat?

And it hadn’t bothered him as much, all the other times someone had convinced him to try the whole date thing. Of course he’d wanted to make a good impression, because who wants to look like the useless mess he always did in any social situation, much less a romantic one? But this was different. He hadn’t wanted it so badly. He hadn’t wanted so completely to not mess this chance up.

Sam gave Steve That Look when he asked him to okay his outfit down to the buttons ahead of time, and That Look had only intensified when Steve had wondered aloud if he should try it on to be sure.

“You know I can’t go with you on this date, right?” Sam said, and Steve briefly, hysterically, pictured the possibility of keeping an earbud in while Sam coached him through it. There was no way Sam would go for it, and while there was every chance Tony would, Steve knew better than to trust even Tony’s most well-meaning romantic advice. “You are a full-grown adult. You don’t need a seeing-eye-date-dog, and even if you did, that is not how I’m going to spend my Saturday.”

“I really do need one, though,” Steve said, only half joking. “Did you see me on the phone? Tony had to make the date for me.”

“Steve,” Sam said sadly, “in the future, if your mom makes the date for you, she gets to pick out your clothes. Go ask Tony what you should wear.”

Steve went pale at the very thought.

“Look,” Sam continued. “You can do this, Steve. You don’t need help. I have only just now realized you were hitting on me at the national mall when we first met—”

“Oh god,” Steve said, burying his face in his hands and dropping into a kitchen chair.

“But in retrospect, you were doing a really good job,” Sam assured him, leaning against the kitchen island and taking a swig of cola from the bottle he’d stolen from Steve’s fridge. “Seriously. Had I been into dudes and not so completely certain of your heterosexuality at the time, we might be having an entirely different conversation about the long, lingering glances you were giving the hired help at my niece’s birthday party.”

“You have successfully stopped me wanting advice from you,” Steve managed.

“Glad to hear it,” Sam said, grinning. “just don’t get kicked out of the donut shop, you’ll be fine.”

Steve frowned. “Can you get kicked out of a donut shop? How do you get kicked out of a donut shop?”

Sam put his hands on Steve’s shoulders. “Please do not find out,” he said. “You can do this, man. You can absolutely do this.”

***

I can’t do this,” Bucky hissed into the phone.

Natalia cussed him out in Russian and hung up.

Bucky stared at his phone, bit his lip, and looked over at the donut shop. Steve had been right; it looked nice. It was actually not a terrible place for a first date. If this had been almost any other situation, Bucky would have been fine.

But this was Captain America. A man actually scientifically engineered to be perfect. The most brilliant tactical mind alive. A superhero so genuinely, completely good that when he dropped three helicarriers into the river and swore that Nazis were on board, everyone actually believed him.

Bucky was going to screw this one up so badly.

On the other hand, he didn’t need to get a head start on screwing it up before he even went in, and a no-show definitely counted. Bucky shook out his shoulders, stretched his neck, and opened the front door of the shop.

The bell above the door jingled cheerfully, and Steve Rogers, sitting at the chic little table right in front of it, stood up immediately. Bucky’s mouth went dry and he stood there, suddenly and viscerally reminded of exactly why he’d given him his number in the first place. Steve had a nervous, sweet smile on his dazzling, chiseled face, and he looked like he wasn’t quite sure what to do—and no wonder, since Bucky was staring at him like a slack-jawed dumbass. Bucky snapped his mouth closed.

“Hey,” Steve said, and his voice was just as deep and charming as Bucky remembered. Bucky swallowed. “Are you okay?”

“I don’t—” Bucky stuttered, caught, and couldn’t think of anything intelligent to say to Captain America, so the truth came tumbling out instead. “You’re just, God, I know you get it all the time, but you’re just really beautiful.”

The truth was immediately followed by churning, horrified embarrassment. What was wrong with him?

Steve blushed a little, then laughed and swung his arm a bit to the side. “Yeah, it’s a miracle of modern science. Even I’m not sure these shoulders are real, sometimes.”

“No,” Bucky said, still in the horrible parallel universe where he spouted every date cliché in the book, “I thought that was it too, at first, but it’s your eyes. You still had them when you were little, right?” Oh god. Oh god. Bucky almost went cross-eyed trying to stare in disgust at his own mouth.

Steve stilled, the blush going away, but it immediately came back full force.

Bucky was such a moron. Natalia was going to eviscerate him when she found out. He clamped his lips shut and pointed at the counter, hoping he could avoid further mortification. Maybe if his mouth was full, it wouldn’t keep running off.

Nope, he realized, as they stood in line. Nope. The stretching silence was weird. It was completely weird.

He groped for something, anything to say, and what came out was, “So what do you do?”

Captain America, the man on half the newspapers on the corner outside, blinked.

“I mean,” Bucky scrambled to cover, “I mean, uh, do you like what you do? I mean.” He looked around desperately for ideas, but instead accidentally met the gazes of three different patrons who were clearly heavily invested in judging him. One had a phone out and was trying to pretend he was reading. “What’s it…like.”

Captain America followed Bucky’s gaze, and his smile flattened when he saw the phone, too. The dude paled a little and slowly put it away. “Well,” Steve Rogers said after a moment. “It has its downsides.” He shook himself and looked at Bucky again. “But it’s…good. I value the opportunity to serve the American people and protect freedom around the world.” Then he shut his eyes and dipped his head a little, rubbing his temples.

The silence stretched again, but no fucking way was Bucky going to just drop anything to fill it after he bombed so hard the last time. He was still working on a response, having discarded So you like freedom, then, and Have you tried these donuts before oh wait you already said you haven’t, and Did you fall from Heaven nevermind no it was a helicarrier, when Steve blurted, “Do you like…being a fake superhero?”

Bucky paused, derailed, and looked carefully at Steve Rogers.

Steve immediately backpedaled. “I mean, I didn’t mean that, I—that came out wrong.”

“Did it,” Bucky asked, frowning. Steve was going red-faced again. Bucky hadn’t noticed it before, because he had been out of his mind with terrified adoration, but Steve had a full-face sheen of sweat and was tapping things a lot.

“I meant—I mean you—” Steve said desperately, and he was looking around now, too. “You. You call yourself a superhero themed actor? I mean. You are a superhero themed actor. I didn’t mean…I’m sorry.”

“Huh,” Bucky said, because Captain Fucking America was just as brainlessly terrified as Bucky was.

***

Steve was vibrating out of his own skin.

He was crashing, completely and horribly, and now Bucky was frowning at him. Steve hadn’t seen him frown once during the entire birthday party, but Steve was a special, talented mermaid and he had managed to piss off what was probably the most patient, easygoing guy in New York. A kid had peed their pants in his lap and Bucky hadn’t frowned. Ten minutes in a romantic context and Steve had managed to turn it all around.

He had been trying so hard.

“Huh,” Bucky had said.

This was the moment, then. This was the moment when the other person realized that being Captain America meant Steve could punch people really hard and really well, but basic date interactions were beyond him. When they recognized Steve Rogers didn’t actually get changed in that metal coffin, and the outside wasn’t really enough.

When they lost interest.

Steve braced himself.

“Which one are you going to get?” Bucky asked, smiling at the donut case and apparently oblivious to Steve’s private, terror-ridden freakout. Steve swallowed the lump in his throat and tried to say something, because Bucky was gorgeous; leaned over in those tight jeans everyone was wearing now, hands in his jacket pockets pulling the fabric tight around his shoulders. Bucky had a form that he clearly had to work for, unlike Steve.

Nothing came out when he opened his mouth, so Steve closed it again.

“What am I talking about,” Bucky laughed, turning to look at him. His smile had brightened to a full grin, and it made Steve breathless to look at it. “You’re going to order the whole case, aren’t you? I eat like a horse, but you’re about twice as big as me. We’re going to force them to close early.”

“Plus the serum,” Steve admitted, feeling gargantuan and ridiculous. “I run really warm and I’m constantly rebuilding. I eat like an Olympic swimmer.”

“That is fantastic,” Bucky said, turning back to the display case. “We are going to order every donut here, and I am going to be able to try all of them, without worrying about leaving half of them to go stale and half-finished. This is the best donut trip of my life already.”

Something uncoiled, just slightly, in Steve’s stomach, but tightened immediately when Bucky’s phone rang. That would be the escape call, the excuse to leave on an emergency Bucky didn’t realize Steve could hear the other side of.

Bucky did take the phone out, but he just frowned at it and silenced the ringer.

Steve uncoiled more.

They ordered, and Bucky hadn’t been kidding—he asked for one of every donut they had ready. They sat down with a mountain of donuts and related pastries, and Steve hadn’t eaten lunch from nerves.

“Hey!” Bucky protested, and Steve looked up, frozen, caught out taking in a Mango Tang-O (whatever Tang was) in three quick bites. Mouth completely full, Steve tried to figure out what to do. “I didn’t get to try that one yet!” Bucky complained, pointing at him. “You can’t eat the whole thing!”

“Oh, we’re—” Steve said around the donut, and actually spit out crumbs like an animal. He was going to jump out of the jet headfirst without the parachute next time. He swallowed. “We’re sharing? We’re sharing. Right. So you can try—I’m sorry, I didn’t even—”

Bucky looked him dead in the eye, picked up the one covered in multicolored sprinkles, and somehow stuffed the entire thing into his mouth. Steve stared, mesmerized. Bucky’s cheeks stuck out like one of his balloon animals, and there was a fraught moment when he clearly realized his mouth was too full for him to chew with it closed. He worked his throat, then gave up and chewed it with his mouth open, glaring in clear challenge the entire time.

Steve was immediately, completely, irreversibly in love.

He reached for another donut.

***

As it turns out, you can get tossed out of a donut joint if enough people are videotaping and screaming while you and your date holler “I AM THE DONUT KING” at each other with the combined weight of two dozen destroyed pastries at your feet.

***

Bucky was definitely going to marry Steve Rogers.

He pressed up tight to Steve’s back, hands tucked around and inside Steve’s leather jacket, and tried to ignore the trickle of blood on his upper lip—he wasn’t getting anywhere near it with the motorcycle helmet on. He hoped he didn’t bleed on Steve’s helmet, or if he did, he hoped Steve would be understanding. Since he also had what felt like a scalp wound from a broken bottle on the back of his head, too, it was probably too late to worry.

Steve was probably used to blood on all his stuff, though, if the night so far was any indication of how he usually spent his time.

Bucky’s split lip broke open again on his grin.

After the donut shop, they’d meandered around like the overstuffed cattle they were, laid themselves out in the sun to digest at the park for a while, and then Bucky’d had the idea to duck into the local brew pub for a beer. They hadn’t been there for very long before Steve decided to tell the local skinheads exactly what he thought of them, someone laid a punch, Steve toppled a table and Bucky started knocking faces into the countertops.

He’d been vaguely surprised to be kicked out of the donut shop, but he had to give it to the brewery: when Captain America starts swinging bar stools like a pro, it’s definitely time to move everything permanently outside. They’d nearly gotten their asses bruised with the closing door, and Bucky wasn’t even mad.

Steve pulled his motorcycle up to a red light, and when he turned his head to ask “You sleepy yet?” Bucky thought he was going to die right there. The streetlights made a halo of Steve’s windblown hair, his black eye was already turning green, and that bright, breathtaking grin was everything Bucky wanted to wake up to for the rest of his life.

“Why,” Bucky shouted through the helmet, knowing Steve would be able to hear him. “You thinking of taking a nana nap? Kids these days too busy for you?”

Steve tipped his head back to laugh, and Bucky didn’t even try to hide what it did to him. He was pretty sure Steve had noticed on the ride already—there wasn’t a lot you could do about biology when you were shoved up tight against the man of your dreams, his ass vibrating in your crotch with the roar of the engine. Steve’s breathing was definitely faster now than when he’d asked if Bucky wanted to go for a ride, so Bucky figured he didn’t much mind.

“Want to try something fun?” Steve asked, revving the motor.

Jesus Christ, did he.

***

They’d barely made it out from Steve’s insane slide under the semi, laughing like idiots and high on adrenaline, when Bucky heard the police sirens.

Chapter Text

Steve woke up the next day feeling amazing. Usually his morning routine consisted of waking up and immediately confronting the anxious, buzzing static of built up worry and super soldier energy, and it generally took at least ten laps around the biggest track he could find to run it off before his day even started. When Sam joined him nowadays, he made sure he showed up about thirteen laps in so Steve could slow down and spend some quality time with him—otherwise Steve spent most of it jogging alongside vibrating like an overbred teacup poodle on steroids.

Today, though, everything was fantastic. It was like he’d bypassed the whole circus and jumped directly to the endorphin rush at the end, but with none of the effort. He opened his eyes and stretched, luxuriating in it, and then the slow memory of the previous night come wafting in with the smell of the sheets when he moved.

Steve blushed, hard, even though there was no one to see him. Shit, of of course he was bypassing the run. They had. Bucky had been.

Wow.

Steve swallowed and blushed even harder the more he thought about it. There was…they had...well, there had just been a lot of things Steve had considered trying someday, things he’d spent a lot of time considering when he was sitting around alone. It turned out to be a lot more exciting when you did them with someone else.

Wow.

Bucky had left late last night (this morning?) with a kiss and a laugh, citing an early birthday party, and since Steve was leaving on an away mission later on he couldn’t exactly complain. He did, though, think wistfully about how it could have been to wake up next to Bucky just now instead.

He thought about that a lot.

In the shower.

He scrubbed his hair dry afterwards, considering the sweatpants Bucky had borrowed and left on the floor. Bucky had lounged around Steve’s apartment in them briefly while they ate cookies from the bag and laughed and made out on the couch before round three, but round two had been in the shower. They didn't smell like Bucky, even to Steve’s superpowered senses, and they were Steve’s own sweatpants. There was no reason for them to be so tempting.

On the other hand, Steve was an adult, alone in his apartment. He could allow himself stupid emotional indulgences, so he pulled the sweats on and went a little pink around the edges. He then wandered out to the main living area with the idea of finishing off the last few cookies and chugging a couple protein shakes to take the edge off before breakfast.

“Congratulations,” Natasha Romanoff said from his kitchen table. “Your boner made the front page.”

Steve leapt three feet into the air and almost came down on top of the hall lamp, every muscle locked, fighting the instinct to throw a table and the couch at her and then dive for his shield.

Jesus Christ.

Natasha had a weird relationship with the Avengers as a whole, and while it wasn't about Steve, it bled through into a lot of the ways she spent time around him. She was, obviously, on the team. And she did, of course, work with Steve often, and there was the huge Insight thing where she very finally and very visibly went up against the same group that had bought her and lost her and gained her again without her knowledge through Shield. Steve liked her, and trusted her, and everyone who wasn’t an asshole agreed that she was pretty clearly on the side of the angels now, regardless of the years she was a brainwashed child soldier for Russia and then Hydra.

But Tony had a…pretty hard time being around her, what with that very uncomfortable issue of how his parents had died. While Tony knew Natasha hadn’t had any more control over the situation than he did, Tony didn’t handle it well. In turn, Natasha mostly kept her distance because of it.

Except, of course, the times when she slid out of whatever bolthole she had in the city to scare a few more years off of Steve’s allotted lifespan and make him destroy lighting fixtures.

“Jesus, Natasha,” Steve managed, righting what was left of the lamp and feeling every phantom pain ever brought on from the memories of a bum ticker. He swiped his hand over his face and tried to breathe steady through the solid shot of supersoldier adrenaline. “I could have been naked. I was naked, a few minutes ago.”

“Meh,” Natasha responded, her feet up on the table and newspaper open in front of her. Her eyebrows had that sheen to them that said she’d been blonde recently, although Steve didn’t think it was visible to anyone without his enhanced eyesight. There was no way Natasha would be that sloppy. “I’ve seen men naked.”

Steve thought, I have too, just last night, and went a red again with the pleasant image it brought back up. Then he remembered what ‘boner’ meant in the future, and he got a second horrified dose of adrenaline.

“My what,” he squeaked out, and Natasha shook open her paper pointedly. CAPTAIN AMERICA PULLED OVER WITH MYSTERY MAN, said the headline, and Natasha was right, he definitely had a boner on the half-page sized photo accompanying it. Upside, you could only see it if you knew to look. Downside, Natasha obviously knew to look.

A lot of people were going to know to look.

“Who even took that,” Steve croaked, heart going double time.

“You made the paper with the bar fight, too,” Natasha continued as if he hadn’t said anything, “and #donutking is trending on twitter.”

“Do these people have nothing better to do,” Steve complained, taking the paper from her and staring at it like he could burn the photographs out of it. Page 2 had a beautiful shot of Bucky, his face tilted away from the camera, mid swing about to deck some punk with a swastika tattoo.

Despite the situation, it brought an instant smile to Steve’s face.

“No, they don’t,” Natasha said baldly, snatching the paper back, and stared him down. He stared back, confused. “Look,” she said, in that voice she got when she was giving him very important information that didn’t make any sense at all, “you can get close to civilians. I’m not saying you can’t. But you need to be careful.”

“Okay,” Steve responded after a beat. Natasha watched him, unblinking, and Steve tried not to feel like he was missing something obvious when she was the one being vague. Whatever his face was doing, it seemed like it was the right thing, because she relented.

“Okay,” she echoed, and the tension in the room dropped a few notches. “James Buchanan Barnes. He’s a good guy. Checks out. Don’t fuck it up.”

“He’s amazing,” Steve corrected, happy to be back on comfortable ground again. “I’m seeing him again as soon as this mission is up. How long do I have to wait in the future to ask someone to marry me?”

“You would be surprised,” Natasha said.

***

“Sir,” Bucky tried.

“—the AFFRONTERY,” the man on the other end shouted at him. “The GALL!”

Sir,” Bucky said again, more insistently. “I’m not a superhe—

“God gave you those powers for a reason!” the man bellowed. “And that reason is to better the world! How dare you turn them to profiteering when there are men and women in uniform risking their lives selflessly without your gifts to protect them—”

“You do realize that we pay those men and women in uniform—” Bucky got in.

“This is a moral OUTRAGE,” the man bellowed.

Sir,” Bucky finally shouted back. “If you want me to spend the money on gas and a truck rental to spend an hour of my highly specialized time using expensive props and pads to entertain your kid and fifteen of his friends, you are going to need to pay my advertised rate!”

The man hung up on him.

Bucky made a loud, wordless noise of frustration and threw the phone at the couch.

Then he stalked back over to snatch it back up and angrily text Natalia. My day has been for *shit*, he complained, flopping down onto the couch himself and tossing his feet up over the back of it. Fuck *everything*. Come home and listen to me complain about it.

Tempting, Natalia texted back. But it turns out I need to make money to live indoors and eat food.

Ugh. Me too, Bucky thought, getting even more annoyed when he thought about the hit he’d taken recently turning down reservations from jerkoffs. He sent a sarcastic emoji back at that one, then rubbed at his temples. He was still putting off the grocery shopping, and now he was hungry, but he was also pretty sure that by this point he was out of everything but popcorn and ketchup.

Goddamnit.

This isn’t about Steve, though. Right? You were happy when you came back, Natalia texted him after a few minutes that he spent staring at the ceiling. You seemed happy.

Bucky smiled a little. Yeah, he sent back. Yeah, he’s alright.

Good, she sent back, I was worried at first, but you both deserve it, and Bucky felt a surprised little blossom of The Fluttery Joy of Friendship in his heart. It’ll be nice not to be the only person you like to bother when you’re bored, she sent immediately after, ruining it, and he laughed out loud.

I want you to know I am extremely disappointed that you scheduled your business trip to coincide with Steve’s stupid away mission, Bucky texted, then heaved himself up to microwave some popcorn. It was unacceptably thoughtless of you.

Natalia sent him back a baby and a crying emoji, then a violin.

Bucky tore open the popcorn packet and tossed it into the microwave, then spent some time watching it spin in obstinate violation of health and safety practices. He dropped his head against the door. Drunk parents at both gigs today, though. Hard to do my job when everyone keeps interrupting to ask if the dude I’ve seen on ONE DATE is gonna randomly crash some kid’s party to say hi.

Don’t pretend you aren’t picking out wedding venues already, Natalia sent back, then, Did they know you’re dating him?

Bucky paused, considering. Nah, he decided, pulling the popcorn out before it burned. They mostly talked about the birthday headline.

Your face wasn’t really in the others, Natalia agreed. There was a pause. Like she’d been distracted from the phone for a moment, and then she sent, Text him.

Bucky frowned, mouth full of popcorn, hands greasy with oil. Text him? he typed with the knuckle of his mostly clean pinkie. Natalia didn’t generally give unsolicited relationship advice without a healthy dose of sarcasm. This conversation was a veritable fountain of feelings, for Natalia. There was no answer for a while, but shit, texting Steve sounded like a great idea. TEXT HIM. I’m gonna. I’m gonna text the SHIT out of him.

Gross, Natalia sent back.

Bucky wiped his hands off on a tea towel and dropped onto the couch again. I’m sending a dick pic. Should I send a dick pic? I’m sending a dick pic.

YES, Natalia sent back. Wait, and after a beat, Okay, now.

Maybe better to start with an ass pic, or just tell him how much I’m thinking about him, Bucky mused, scrolling through his ‘Spank Bank Donations’ photo collection. What if he’s somewhere important? I don’t want to embarrass him. Is this a bad idea? Am I going to distract him during a fight with a giant panda and get him killed?

DO IT. Bucky had no idea how Natalia typed that fast. He won’t have his phone on if he’s got immediate trouble. Which ass pic?

I’m not gonna livetext my sexting for you, Bucky sent primly. Then, The one with the blue underwear.

Good choice, Natalia decided. Send the duckface one you took when you thought I was sleeping and couldn’t judge you for it, too.

You’re such an asshole, Bucky told her, and followed her instructions down to the letter.

Bucky had gone back to the popcorn, finished it, and was looking thoughtfully at the ketchup when Steve finally texted him back.

tou lkk.

Yu lok rylelnk

A long pause.

You look really nice.

Bucky considered this. He wanted Steve to be so joyously turned on that he had forgotten how to type, but on the other hand, maybe he just had a lot of trouble with those huge, strong hands and tiny phone keyboards. Steve was technically as old as Bucky’s grandmother.

Bucky pursed his lips thoughtfully. This seemed like a go? It was pretty early in the relationship for a full frontal, though. Too much?

On the other hand, Steve had been damn cheerful with it up close and personal through four rounds of enthusiastically flexible and athletic sex while Bucky came down his throat.

Bucky pressed send.

***

Natasha, quit laughing and help me stop it putting previews up every time he texts!” Steve hissed, stabbing at system preferences and trying very hard not to be distracted by the latest notification. “Sam’s going to get here any second. Sam doesn’t know I slept with Bucky.

“Sam is not going to care,” Natasha assured him. She lounged sideways in the pilot seat, her feet up in what should have been an awkward, uncomfortable position against the headrest. “But if you’re worried, just put away your phone.”

“Sam is a friendship detective,” Steve argued, still searching through menus. “He’s almost as good as you are as long as there’s feelings involved. I put my phone in my pocket instead of the console once when you were trying to get me to text Justine from Accounting, and he was giving me the side-eye for a week after.”

“So tell James you’re somewhere you can’t sext,” Natasha said. She rolled her eyes and continued tapping away on her own phone. “Ask him to stop sending you dirty pictures.”

“Yeah, sure, that would work great,” Steve countered, “if I didn’t want him to keep sending me dirty pictures.”

Natasha laughed again. “Seriously, Sam isn’t going to care,” Natasha repeated. “You’re an adult. You can have sex with people.”

Steve paused to glare at her. “The only relationship and dating advice I have been able to get out of Sam in the past three months has been ‘don’t worry about it,’ ‘you’ll be fine,’ and ‘okay, sure, maybe don’t go home with a stranger right after you meet them.’ I’m not afraid he’s going to think I’m fast, Natasha. I’m afraid he’s going to be concerned.”

Natasha considered this, then burst into her evil witch cackles all over again. Steve glared just like he did the last time. “You’re right,” she crowed, dropping her phone into her lap and leaning forward in delight. “He’s going to be worried. He’s going to be thoughtful. Is everything okay, Steve? Are you sure you feel comfortable with this? It doesn’t seem like you. You don’t have to talk about it, man, but you know you can. I’m here.”

“Oh god,” Steve moaned.

“He’s a way better friend than I am,” Natasha concluded, slumping back into the chair. “I’ve seen what James’ ass looks like. Sext away.”

“He’s definitely the better friend,” Steve told her.

“Who’s a better friend?” Sam asked, clanking on board. “Me? It’s definitely me. I am absolutely the better friend.” He heaved his after bag into a corner, then set the wings down carefully in their dock.

Steve shoved his phone into his pocket, and Sam’s eyes, of course, followed the movement and narrowed thoughtfully. He looked at Steve, tilting his head, then glanced over at Natasha. After a moment where he clearly debated asking about things with her there, he simply gave Steve his most concerned, yet open and patient, look.

Steve folded like an old shirt.

“I made it past third base with Bucky four different ways over the course of three hours last night,” Steve blurted, then snapped his mouth shut and closed his eyes. Natasha smiled like she’d just won the lottery and didn’t even pretend she wasn’t enjoying every minute of Steve’s abject mortification.

“Uh,” Sam said, thrown. His jaw worked for a moment as he tried to figure out what he could really say to that, and Steve thought maybe if he wished hard enough, the earth would open up and swallow him whole.

“Don’t look at Steve’s phone,” Natasha said. “He doesn’t want you to see the boner photos.”

“I already saw those in the newspaper this morning,” Sam said, still clearly trying to bring his head back around to where the conversation had jumped to. He probably didn’t run into many superheroes declaring their sexual practices in the middle of his usual line of work, Steve thought.

“No,” Natasha explained, looking like she thought she was being helpful. “These ones are better.”

“I can’t even hide from this conversation in the bathroom,” Steve groaned, covering his face with his hands. “Because that is just going to make this situation worse.”

“It would be pretty funny, though,” Natasha told him, chin in hand and looking back and forth between them like she was watching the most hilarious ping pong match of her life. “You have my full permission.”

“Thanks,” Steve said. “I was just waiting on that.”

“As you should,” Natasha agreed magnanimously.

“Please don’t take alone time with your phone in the bathroom,” Sam said, face saying he had just now caught up and knew exactly what was on Steve’s phone. “It’s uncomfortable enough hearing people piss through that crap-ass door, I don’t need the social awkwardness when you come back out.”

“And I’d be sure to make it as awkward as possible,” Natasha promised him.

“I’m sure you would,” Sam said. “You’re talented like that.”

“I’m not going to,” Steve protested, red-faced. “I’m just—I’m gonna just save it.”

“For later,” Natasha agreed, obviously trying to keep a straight face and much more amused than the situation called for. “It’s a very generous donation.”

“Oh my god,” Steve managed, covering his face again.

“We’ve got separate rooms, right?” Sam asked Natasha. She nodded, looking kind of disappointed about it. “Then cool. You do that.”

Steve closed his eyes and rubbed his brow.

“And if you wanna talk,” Sam offered, while Natasha grinned at Steve over his shoulder, “you can come by. But like, after a shower and all.”

“Thanks,” Steve said weakly.

***

Bucky stood and stared into his closet.

The fuck-me jeans and the I’m-so-boyfriend-material jersey-knit had definitely worked for the first date last week; Steve had nearly knocked his own teeth out on the front steps when Bucky’d leaned over the bike to check his hair in the mirror. On the other hand, though, the whole outfit had made it home considerably worse for wear after coming up against a sweetly fumbling superhero in the dark. Supersoldier strength: outrageously sexy when you’re getting fucked against the wall like it’s nothing, not so good on tight jeans that don’t slide off fast enough and the supersoldier isn’t quite sure what he’s doing, but he’s very sure he wants to do it right away.

Not that Bucky minded—it had been a completely acceptable sacrifice for one of the best nights of his life—but it did mean he was down by his sexiest pair of jeans at a time when he very much did not need that limitation. On the other hand, it wasn’t like he could wear them to see Steve twice in a row, even if they were intact. He worried his lip, tilting his head this way and that like it would make a new wardrobe appear out of nowhere.

Distantly, Bucky knew he was obsessing, and he had no illusions why. Seeing Steve again after his away mission would have been the highlight of any week, but after the shitshow Bucky’d been through, it was going to be like riding into Narnia on the back of a unicorn, except with anal. And shit, worrying about which jeans he wanted to shimmy out of during tonight’s blow job was a hell of a lot more fun than overanalyzing every message sitting on his voicemail instead, debating whether they were really the kind of caller he wanted to work for. Especially when 98% of them since that damn newspaper article had been ‘holy shit, probably not.’

Clothes it was.

Bucky rang Natalia.

“What should I wear to see Steve?” Bucky asked her as soon as she picked up. “I want something that says, ‘I missed you, I want you, fuck me on your kitchen table again.’”

“James,” Natalia said, sounding bored. “I’m pretty sure the pictures of your lonely hard-on have communicated that just fine. I’ve seen your sexting folder. You could show up in a mumu and house shoes and he will still see nothing but your abs and o-face when he looks at you.”

“Every good communication has a strong follow-up,” Bucky said primly, sorting through the laundry. “What about the black skinny jeans? They’re harder to get out of, but Steve has super strength, he can help.”

“Look,” Natalia said after a moment, “I am going to be completely honest. This is adorable, but I do have a limit. If I have to hear about your upcoming date with Steve one more time, I’m going to scream.”

Bucky frowned and looked at the phone before putting it back to his ear. “This is the first time I’m talking about it,” he said, perplexed. He sifted through the laundry basket for his black jeans. “I’ve been trying to stay out of your hair since you’re away on a work thing.”

“I have to go,” Natalia said, not really answering. “Wear that one scarf you never wash. Steve Rogers has an enhanced sense of smell along with everything else, and he’s going to love it because he’s gross.”

Then Natalia hung up.

Bucky stared at his phone for a moment, but whatever Natalia said, she was usually right. He shrugged, struggled into the black jeans, and went looking for his scarf.

All in all, Bucky was feeling a lot better about things when his phone rang on his way out, so much so that he actually looked at it instead of sending it straight to voicemail.

Anh Nguyen with the sword-fighting 5 y.o., his phone said. Bucky perked up and answered.

“Anh!” he said, holding the phone with his shoulder while he struggled with his lock. “It’s good to hear from you! We’re scheduled for Mai’s 6th next month, right?”

“About that,” Anh said, and her tone made Bucky’s heart drop. Shit. Shit shit shit. His key scraped against the handle.

“About that?” he asked carefully, leaning back against the door. He pulled the scarf tighter against the sudden chill. “Is everything okay? Is Mai okay?”

“Nothing like that. And this is nothing you did,” Anh said, and Bucky winced and leaned harder on the door as relief and dread mixed in his gut. “You were amazing at her fifth birthday. She still talks about you, and I am constantly recommending you to everyone I know.”

Bucky took a deep breath. “But?”

“But I have spent the last week fielding calls about whether the actual Captain America is likely to show up,” Anh admitted. She hesitated, but then pushed on. “And after a few of those, it occurred to me to wonder: who else might think Captain America could show up in my backyard next month?”

“Oh,” Bucky breathed, suddenly sick. That made… that made a horrible sort of sense. “Oh. No, I understand.”

“It’s not your fault,” Anh swore. Anh was nice, and Bucky knew what she looked like now-- miserable and anguished, but sticking it out because she loved her daughter. Fuck. “You’re amazing. I just can’t… it’s probably not likely, I know, but…”

“But you can’t risk your daughter’s life in a terrorist attack for a birthday party,” Bucky said slowly, rubbing his eyes. “No, I get it. That makes sense.”

“I’m so sorry,” Anh said. “I want to give you the fee anyway, even though you won’t be here.”

“No, Anh, you don’t gotta—”

“Please,” she insisted, and Bucky didn’t have the strength to say no again. He wasn’t hurting for money—but shit. He might be soon. Should he even be taking any parties now? Was this a real worry? “I’m sorry. I really am. And I’m sure it will be all over in a year, so can I book ahead for her seventh?”

“Yeah, that sounds great,” Bucky assured her, “I’ll put her in the calendar.” And when Anh hung up, he punched the door.

***

Bucky’s phone rang three more times on the way to dinner.

He didn’t answer.

It was really, really nice to see the way Steve’s face lit up when he saw Bucky come in. Steve did an awkward, adorable bob up from his chair, apparently thought better of standing, and sank back down again, his face positively glowing. He was stunning and perfect and clearly over the moon to see Bucky, and a warmth seeped into the cold misery that had followed along the entire trip there.

Still, even once Bucky had dragged his way over to Steve, he just didn’t have the energy to be charming. He slumped into the chair opposite, dropped his head onto the table, and sat there for a full minute. He managed a frustrated groan before he ran out of the will to talk, too.

“So,” Steve said after the long silence, voice a little strained. “Bad week?”

“This week,” Bucky told him, rocking his head on the tabletop slightly to peek up at him with one eye. “Has been. For shit.” He closed his eyes. “It’s nice to see you, though. That part is really good.”

“Oh,” Steve said, and Bucky rolled his head back to stare at the wood grain.

Steve’s chair squeaked, and then Bucky felt one mighty bear paw gently pat his shoulder. “Uh,” the country’s most famous archetype of inspiration and quick thinking said. “I’m sorry.”

Bucky frowned and stared at the tabletop.

“It will…” Steve’s voice trailed off, and the paw paused, then withdrew. “Er. It will get better?”

Bucky swung his head back up and stared at Captain America, the Actual Worst at Feelings, who fidgeted under his glare. “What the hell,” Bucky asked slowly, “was that?”

“Um.” Steve looked like a nervous deer again, hands held uncomfortably in midair. “Um? I was…I don’t know?”

“That was the worst comforting I have ever experienced,” Bucky said, pointing at him. “And let me tell you, my roommate is shit at it. How did this happen? Isn’t this in your job description? Aren’t you supposed to cheer up kids at the hospital and at the disasters you stop and whatever? We had sex all over your apartment last week, Steve. You’re allowed to give me a hug.”

Steve looked painfully constipated. “I don’t know if that would be appropriate for the situation,” he said stiffly, and the ridiculousness of it, the sudden about-face from blissfully smiling in each other’s arms to anxious Childless Uncle pats on the shoulder did it. Finally, horribly, something in Bucky that had been stressed to the breaking point for the whole awful week snapped.

“I didn’t say put your tongue in my asshole in front of God and all his children,” Bucky hissed, knowing his rising anger was all out of proportion and too frustrated and miserable to stop it. “I said you could give the dude who got your come in his hair a hug when he has a bad day.”

“Oh,” Steve said, hands up in surrender now, eyes wide. “Um, I wasn’t—”

“Are you worried to be seen with me in public?” Bucky asked, his voice rising maybe just a little and his eyes stinging, like an idiot, spiraling out of control. “Are you embarrassed? Am I tarnishing your image, being seen with some guy, some fucking balloon artist—”

Bucky didn’t get anything else out—Steve was already leaping to his feet and sweeping Bucky into his arms, burying his face in Bucky’s scarf, and apologizing so profusely the words were a rushing string of gibberish. Bucky just held on, still mad, still furious about the bullshit and the phone calls and everything, but he let out a long breath.

None of this was Steve’s fault. Not really. Bucky didn’t deserve this shit, but Steve didn’t deserve having it taken out on him, either. Bucky opened his mouth to apologize.

Then he closed it, pulled back, and looked down at Steve’s bulging crotch.

Steve looked like he wanted to die. Bucky wondered, in that calm, hysterical way right after you’ve had your thoughts completely derailed, how Steve had the blood for a full Irish blush and the really just enormous erection at the same time.

“Oh,” Bucky said, blinking. Steve’s face was getting even darker, verging on purple, now. “I get it. ‘Inappropriate.’ Yeah. Yeah, I get not wanting to bonerstab the dude in crisis. You’re completely forgiven.”

“I didn’t even think about how your week might have gone,” Steve managed, contorting himself gracelessly in an attempt to keep his arms around Bucky but keeping the full salute in his pants as far from him as possible. It made Steve look like an amateur wrestler frozen mid-suplex. “I was just looking forward to seeing you, a lot, and then I started thinking about those pictures you sent me, and then…It’s just the serum is really good for some things but once it gets a certain idea in its, uh, in its head, I mean—”

The tension of Bucky’s week finally broke. It fell out of him like a cascade of stones and left him almost giddy with relief. “Oh my god, Stevie,” Bucky laughed, light-headed, dropping his face into Steve’s shoulder. “It’s okay. Jesus. I’m sorry. I was taking everything out on you and it wasn’t fair. You’re doing everything right. I’m an asshole.”

“You’re not an asshole,” Steve assured him. “I’m an asshole. I got myself so worked up over being a complete idiot that I acted like you weren’t important to me, and I—”

“No, Steve, I’m a dick, you’re fine.” Bucky assured him, pulling him back in so Steve’s boner slid up against him in a move that successfully banished everything outside the immediate, amazingly hot situation entirely from his mind. Steve almost swallowed his tongue, but he looked pretty okay with it, too. “Let’s blow this place. Actually, let’s go back to mine and blow each other instead.”

“No, we don’t have to,” Steve said, and Bucky eyed him skeptically; Steve’s pupils were dark and riveted to Bucky’s mouth, and Bucky could practically feel his dick twitching through his jeans-- Captain America’s super boner was making a determined attempt to escape and it might win free at any moment. That man could not hide a single thought in his head. “We can stay and have coffee and you can tell me about your feelings. It’ll…this will go away. I’ll be fine.”

Bucky raised an eyebrow, hugged a bit more firmly, and watched Steve’s eyes nearly cross.

“Baby, we are not going to make it through five more minutes here without ending up in the paper again,” Bucky assured him. “And you know, the idea of fucking this bad week out of my brain sounds better and better every minute I’m touching you. Did you bring your bike? I really hope you brought your bike.”

Steve turned impossibly redder. “I brought my bike.”

Bucky moaned, just loud enough for Steve to hear him, and Steve let out a short breath like something had jabbed him in the stomach. Probably Bucky’s boner, which was making a definite appearance. Bucky tugged Steve’s hand and dragged him out of the restaurant in the interests of public decency. “You brought your bike for the same reason you have a massive pocket rocket in your jeans,” Bucky accused.

Steve swallowed. “I did,” he admitted, following readily.

“Well that is perfect,” Bucky assured him, leaning in for a kiss, “because I, for one, am completely on board to sit my cock right up against your ass on a vibrating motorcycle for the entire trip home. Let’s take the long way, I’m all in.”

Steve almost tripped and fell on his face in his haste to grab the motorcycle helmets. Two this time, probably so they wouldn’t get pulled over again. “But after,” Steve stuttered, passing the blue one and pulling on the lipstick red. “Let’s talk about feelings after. I can do it. I promise.”

“Yeah, sure,” Bucky agreed, sliding on behind Steve and grinding up against his ass. Steve accidentally revved the engine. “Feelings.”

Steve stopped, deliberately, and turned around in his seat. He pulled the helmet back off. “You’re important to me,” he said, jaw set even while his eyes darted to Bucky’s mouth and back up. “I care about your week. I want to make things better while you tell me about the things that matter to you.”

“Yeah, sure,” Bucky repeated with new, hesitant sincerity. “Feelings.”

Steve looked at him carefully. “Okay,” he said, and turned back around.

“But I am damn sure going to ride you hard enough that I don’t feel them as much anymore first,” Bucky decided, and Steve laughed and took off.

Chapter Text

Steve was completely in love.

Already.

On the second date.

It wasn’t even news—he’d been in love on the first date, too, and it was just as ridiculous now as it had been at the donut shop. Bucky was facedown and burrowed into the pillows of Steve's bed, Steve lying against him, one arm still under Bucky's shoulder and the other draped across his back, and the emotion of it threatened to overwhelm him.

Steve was falling much too hard, much too fast, and he wasn’t going to stop for anything.

He flexed against Bucky, one leg still hooked over Bucky's waist and his dick pressed into the soft curve of Bucky’s hip. He trailed his free hand over Bucky’s sex-heated skin, and slowly peppered Bucky’s shoulder with kisses anywhere he could reach. Bucky laughed, half asleep, and Steve couldn't help the big, stupid grin that took over his face. Maybe it was the serum-- maybe whatever it was the body flooded him with during sex was as narcotics-grade as the adrenaline he got during a fight.

Bucky squirmed, and Steve decided he didn't particularly care.

“I can't, baby,” Bucky murmured, laughter still in his voice. “I can't. I've been keeping up with a super soldier all night. I’m not moving for at least twelve more hours.”

“Sleep,” Steve told him, stretching up to nose at Bucky’s hair. It was a mess, but it smelled so good. “I just like kissing on you.”

“Well, kiss away,” Bucky yawned, nuzzling close. Steve complied, and after a little of that, Bucky said, “You can rub off on me too, if you want.”

“Oh,” Steve said, the air punched out of him. His dick, which had already been filling again lazily against Bucky, broke some kind of land speed record getting to fuck-yeah-I’m-ready.

Bucky laughed again, and Steve was never going to get used to how good it made him feel. Bucky made a clearly Herculean effort to lift his head and numbly kiss Steve back for a moment, then dropped back into the pillows with his eyes shut and a fond smile across his face. “I like the sounds you make.”

Oh,” Steve said, and his hips were moving against Bucky already, almost of their own accord. Bucky still felt so amazing, pliant and sweaty and still slick everywhere after Steve had spilled half the bottle of lube earlier in his eagerness.

Steve was panting into Bucky’s ear, floating but still aware enough to feel self-conscious, silly, but Bucky said “Yeah,” and “Bite me a little, baby,” and Steve came again so quick he saw stars, Bucky’s name in his mouth and his teeth in Bucky’s shoulder. He dropped back to his side after, gasping, little fireworks still going off in his brain.

“Hmm,” Bucky hummed, smug and pleased and barely awake. “Feel better?”

Steve couldn't even reply. He fumbled around for the stack of handtowels Bucky had tossed from the closet a few rounds in, did a terrible job of wiping them both off, then ducked in close, his face tucked under Bucky’s arm. “Gross,” Bucky huffed, but it was doting, happy, and then he murmured, “Nat was right about you smelling things,” before settling into sleep.

Steve smiled so wide it almost hurt. He had just enough time enough to wonder idly when Bucky had met Natasha before he fell asleep, too.

***

Bucky was disgusting.

He stretched, blinking into the light streaming through the window, and felt the stiff crackle of dried come right alongside the sticky discomfort of lube left on overnight. Steve, the warm weight of him a comforting line along Bucky’s back, groaned and flexed his fingers against Bucky’s hip.

“Hmm,” Steve mumbled, sleepy and content, and pulled Bucky in closer. Bucky snorted and turned over, wincing as his muscles reminded him that he’d had the workout of his life last night and then collapsed in a sweaty mess afterwards.

Steve’s grip tightened. “Stay.”

Bucky laughed and pulled away. “I smell like I spent my night at a bath house, and not the kind where I do any bathing,” Bucky told him. “Four solid hours fucking, and damn do we smell like it.”

“Mm,” Steve agreed, pleased, and made no move to let Bucky up.

“Come on,” Bucky insisted, kissing him. “Up. Shower. Shower, new sheets, then cuddles in bed.”

Steve groaned but allowed it, and they had a fantastic time under the spray, saved from serious injury only by Steve’s supernatural strength and reflexes every time Bucky lost his balance. They stumbled out quite a bit later, dripping all over the floor, and Bucky fished a spare toothbrush out of the cabinet and tore open the packaging with a flourish. Steve laughed at him, and they spent longer than necessary bumping elbows and getting lost looking at each other in the mirror before they headed back to the bedroom.

Steve cuddled up close behind him once they’d stripped the sheets, tugged on new ones, and fallen back into bed. Bucky clocked right back out and only woke up in time for the Taylor’s job because he’d had the foresight to set his alarm a week before.

With all the rushing, kissing, horking down breakfast as fast as he could manage and hurrying for the train to his storage locker and the car rental, Bucky never really got a chance to talk about his week, thank god. The less he had to think about that, the better.

***

Bucky had pulled the borrowed truck up to his last job, hockey bag halfway out of the back, when he noticed it.

Seven years of spending every other day in a new middle class suburban household had created a kind of routine in the sameness of his parties. He would glance over and note the brand of car seat in the SUV as he walked up the driveway. There would be toys and bikes in the yard or open garage, and someone would have stomped through the flowerbed recently. He would have seen the house before he saw the street number from his navi, because there would be signs, maybe balloons. He required a big backyard for his activities, so he would usually hear some screaming from behind the house already, and there would often be a note taped to the door to come through to the back.

It wasn’t that odd for a few of the details to be missing. It wasn’t even weird if none of them were there. But this house had absolutely no signs of children occupying it, and neither did the two on either side.

Bucky tapped his foot against the asphalt for a moment, then pushed his bag back in and shut the doors, thumbing the number for the parent contact on his phone with the other hand.

“Hello?”

“Hey, yeah,” Bucky said, drumming his fingers on the side of the truck. “I just wanted to double check the address. 183 112th place, right?”

“Yes, that’s us!” the woman on the other end said brightly. “I’ve got eyes on you now. You’re in the right place. Everyone is outside waiting! We can’t wait to get ahold of you here.”

There wasn’t a single sound coming from the backyard.

Shit.

The little voice that had been saying ‘Ha ha! You paranoid idiot. Everything is fine,’ shut the fuck up at that one with a ‘no yeah you’re definitely gonna die’ and moved over for the total panic waiting in the wings instead.

“So kids love dramatic entrances,” Bucky managed, his heart in his throat, and started making his way to the side of the property. No barrier around the house next door. That seemed promising? “And I’m looking at your fence, and it’s a really good height for a superhero flip. Do you think your neighbor would mind me lurking around his property for a few minutes?”

“Oh no, my neighbors won’t mind you there at all,” she assured him, which, shit. He probably had to worry about the neighbors, then, too. “You want to come in on the east side or the west?”

“Lemme check it out and call you back,” Bucky said, swallowing down the panic, and hung up.

He tried walking around the side normally, but he really didn’t have the first clue how fast could go without looking suspicious. In fact, he realized, he had no idea what actions could look suspicious to the kind of people who would stage a birthday party to lure him out to their possible murder house. Was it weird that he kept biting his lip? Could they see from the way he was hunched over that he was imagining a bullet, or a blowdart, or whatever coming straight for his back? Did they already know he’d clued in and were laughing about how useless he was?

He’d just have to deal with it.

Shit, he was making a lot of noise. How did people not make noise when they were sneaking around? How did he never notice how loud just walking through the grass was? Could they monitor his phone? Some people could monitor phones. Would he give it away if he texted Steve?

His phone rang.

“Hello?”

“You’re getting kind of far around the corner, there,” the woman (presumably) inside the house told him. Which was weird, right? She shouldn’t be able to see him at that angle. Definitely a trap. “Is everything okay?”

“Oh yeah,” Bucky assured her, freezing, and came up with the best bullshit he could with his mind slowly whiting out in terror. “I’m just looking for a spot where the ground might have swelled up to the fence over time. You know, make the jump easier.”

“Huh,” The woman said, and Bucky tried not to breathe too heavily into the phone as he looked around, heart sinking. He’d been hoping there could be something around the other yard that would help him—not that he had any idea what could have helped him—but it was completely bare save for a lone barberry bush in the back corner.

Bucky paused.

Barberry. Thorns.

Thorns planted in the backyard usually meant something the owners wanted to keep things away from. “Oh hey, I think I see a spot,” he said, jogging forward. “Just a second. Lemme check it out.”

“There’s nothing over there,” the woman said, but there was. Now that he was closer, he could see a gap where the corners of the fences didn’t quite meet. Someone, somewhere, hadn’t been sure of property lines and had played it safe.

“No, this is perfect,” Bucky told her. “Are you worried about the thorns? I’ll be fine, I’m wearing leather. But I can get a great launch from the edge of this other fence here. Can you clear the yard so I won’t hit anyone on the way down? I’ll give you about five minutes and I’ll backflip in, your daughter is going to lose her shit, I promise.”

“Okay,” said the woman, and Bucky hung up, slid behind the bush, slipped into the other yard, and ran.

***

Steve was eating his third lunch when Natasha opened his front door and stalked right in, clearly furious with him.

He didn’t live in the tower, but he didn’t have the least secure apartment, either, and he knew he’d locked the door—but there hadn’t been any scrapes of lockpicks, creaking of steps, anything. She’d just opened it like she lived there.

“Hey,” he managed around a mouthful of his frozen hungry man meal. They weren’t as advertised—he was on his second one and considering a few more. “How’d you get past the—”

“You asshole,” she shouted, smacking the newspaper down so hard the detritus scattered across his table rattled. “Have you seen this? Have you seen this. You let yourself get photographed with your civilian boyfriend facing right at the camera while you kissed him on the cheek like a lovesick teenager.”

“What?” Steve managed, jumping to save a glass that had been too close to the edge and was now teetering precariously over the brink.

I liked this cover,” she snarled. “I liked this me and I like James, but he sure is fucked now. Put on your damn suit.”

Steve frowned, but got to his feet. “Cover? What? Are you worried about keeping the media off me about the dating thing? Because I feel like the boner picture sort of overshadows a kiss on the cheek.”

Natasha blinked at him, and then the rage came flooding back to her face. “You thought it was about you,” she said, incredulous. “You thought this was all about you.”

“They make it all about me,” Steve protested, but Natasha cut him off with a hand right in his face, clearly unable to deal with his idiocy. Steve thought it was a little harsh when she was the one who had trouble communicating.

“You can get close to normal people,” she said, and she was so angry and so dangerous, then, that Steve felt like he’d stumbled into one of those older fairy tales involving a lot of dead adventurers. He swallowed. “But I said to be careful. You dumbfuck.”

“Natasha,” Steve said, holding out both hands and trying to look as harmless as more than six feet of supersoldier realistically could. “I don’t understand. What’s going on?”

Did you know,” she hissed, slapping the newspaper on the table again, “that Captain America’s boyfriend will just show up! At your private address! Any time, and by himself, as long as you have his publicly advertised phone number and a credit card?” Steve felt that tiny worry that had been building turn into full-fledged horror. “And guess who’s an hour late getting home? I said put on your fucking suit.”

Steve almost broke a door and three bookshelves going for the closet.

***

Bucky tried to catch his breath, bent over with his hands on his knees, gasping.

It had been long enough that he’d had time to really let the panic set in, settle into his lungs, and make room for the frantic hamster wheel to start spinning on something else, and he was thinking about why someone would set up something as convoluted and awful as this for someone like him.

He wasn’t important enough or vulnerable enough for some random serial killer with a murder basement. He didn’t think he was important enough or vulnerable enough for anyone higher up the criminal food chain, either, but who knew? Probably not, though.

No, this was almost definitely about Steve.

Goddamnit.

He really liked Steve. Dating Steve was like floating in a sea of root beer bliss and rainbows. Dating Steve was like every happy families picture he’d ever imagined for himself when he was five. Dating Steve was something Bucky only wanted to quit when they got married and stopped calling it ‘dating’ in favor of calling it ‘Tuesday’.

Dating Steve was also, apparently, running from unknown assailants alone through dew-wet backyards in combat boots in terror for your life for hours on end in a weird mix of exhaustion, boredom, and mind-numbing panic.

He leaned around a corner, crushing someone’s marigolds underfoot, and saw a woman dressed for jogging talking on her cellphone while she looked carefully around her. She was right ahead of him—he tried not to move. Quick movements gave away your position, right? Or was that dinosaurs?

“No,” The woman was saying, loudly and clearly annoyed. “He’s not on the street. We’re going to sweep the backyards on 52nd next.”

Fuck. He ignored the stitch in his side and tried to stealth his way back through the garden, destroying the carefully turned soil behind him and hoping kidnappers were the same as dinosaurs.

God. He was crap at this, like a hippopotamus barreling through hedges and swing sets, but he was somehow keeping out of sight. If it had been in the city near his apartment, or in a park, or anywhere other than the world he made his living in, he’d almost definitely be dead already.

He’d dropped his phone for no better reason than people in movies could track other people in movies with them, and he was pretty sure he had made his way through four completely different neighborhoods before he realized shit, should have texted Steve before I did that. Fuck. No helping it now though, and every time he thought maybe it’s been long enough, maybe I can knock on someone’s door and ask them to call Steve, he ran into someone who wasn’t fitting in, like the lady in jogging clothes, not jogging, on the phone and standing around looking into her neighbors’ windows.

And now here he was, gasping for air after another fifteen-minute ridiculous sprint in a full leather bodysuit, crouched inside a wooden playscape lookout. He was clutching a bat like he would know what to do with it if the opportunity arose, and he really hoped that this suburb, among the millions he had been to over the years, looked familiar for a reason that could help him. He ran his fingers through his sweat-soaked hair, took another deep breath, and chanced a look over the side.

“James Buchanan Barnes, what the hell are you doing skulking around Jessica’s house in her son’s pirate princess ninja hideout?”

Bucky almost fell out of the lookout.

Sarah Wilson was leaning on her porch railing with a drink in one hand and her sunglasses in the other. “Yes, I know your name,” she continued at full volume. “You’re dating my adopted Saint Bernard, of course I know your name. What on earth are you doing?”

Bucky made frantic shushing motions at her, looking desperately around, but no one appeared out of the bushes to shoot animal tranquilizers into his face. Sarah, thank god, had gone silent and concerned, so he swung over the edge and leapt down, climbing a picnic table to jump the fence into her yard.

***

As Hydra was finding out, staging a smash and grab on a civilian to gain leverage over the superhero who liked to kiss him in public wasn’t the easy street path to immediate success it had seemed at the onset.

Jordan was really regretting his life choices.

Captain America had plowed through the door without getting off of his motorcycle first. He’d ridden it right over three of the guards who had tried to stop him, and then the Black Widow had vaulted off the back and strangled two more between her legs. After that, they had smashed the entire place in about five minutes, packed it with explosives, and sent it sky high.

“I’m calm,” said Captain America, holding Jordan a foot in the air by his throat as they watched everything go up in flames. He carried his motorcycle casually in the other hand, like that was just a thing you did, don’t forget to bring your motorcycle out of the house you ram it through. 1940s thrift and all.

Jordan tried to nod.

“I’m a reasonable guy. I mean, you just tried to attack the man I’m going to marry. That’s not a big deal, right? No big deal. It’s nothing to take personally.”

The remaining structure of the safehouse gave up the ghost and collapsed in a roar of fire.

Jordan wasn’t sure if he was supposed to nod at that one, so he made a choked, gurgling noise instead.

“So let’s just fix this,” Captain America said, squeezing a little. Jordan flailed, his eyes bulging, but the Captain’s grip was like iron. “Where is James Barnes?”

Jordan passed out with terror, pissing himself on the way.

Steve looked at the unconscious agent with disgust, then dropped him on the cement. “Fuck,” he said.

“So James is somewhere else,” Natasha said cheerfully, “and the other half of the Hydra base we just smashed up is spread out across the neighboring eight subdivisions, full of children and civilians.”

“That explosion was really cathartic, though,” Steve ground out, ‘accidentally’ kicking Jordan on his way past. “I assume you picked up the communication codes before we set them on fire?”

Natasha gave him a ‘do you think I’m an amatuer’ look and hooked one of Hydra’s headsets over her hair. “Alpha alpha two niner,” she said into the microphone. “All agents, report on your location,” and was answered with a barrage of disparate coordinates. She glanced back at him, eyebrows up.

“Okay,” Steve said, cracking his neck and climbing back on the motorcycle. It was a little dinged up, but he figured he could run over at least a few more agents before it became a problem. “Let’s start picking off Nazis.”

***

Bucky had been hiding. In a hole. For a really long time.

“Tiffany down the block is insane,” Sarah had told him, glancing up from her phone as she typed a careful, long set of numbers in to contact her brother. It was way longer than a regular phone number, and Bucky had been intimidated and impressed just from that. “Has a year’s worth of canned goods in the basement that she cycles every three months. I will put down hard cash that she has an emergency bunker in that backyard she never lets anyone into.”

And shit, that had sounded like a fantastic idea when he’d been staggering from exhaustion after being hunted for hours by crazy people like a prehistoric deer, especially the part that came later about Tiffany somehow also having no sense of real security and all her passcodes being ‘1234’. Breaking into a sealed closet in the ground, locking it physically behind him, and sitting in the dark with a baseball bat and a stitch in his side had seemed like a great plan.

At the time.

Because the main problem with hiding in a hole in the ground, he was realizing now, was figuring out when the fuck you come out. He couldn’t hear anything but the sound of his own breathing, there wouldn’t have been any cell reception even if he hadn’t tossed his phone, and he had no way of knowing how much time had passed. Had Sarah gotten ahold of the Falcon to come and save his coworker’s terrified date, and they were knocking on the solid steel and cement soundproofed hatch to tell him to come out? Had the pink-jacketed suburban thugs grabbed her instead, and surrounded the yard just waiting to shoot him in the head when he struggled through?

How long had he been there, even? It felt like hours, but it could have been thirty minutes or the rest of the day. He had no clue.

And he really had to pee.

Maybe he should take a quick look. Bucky flexed his hands on the baseball bat. Yeah. Maybe just a quick look.

And get shot in the head.

While Bucky was debating between sudden death and pissing himself (if they shot him in the head he guessed he’d piss himself anyway, so probably not worth it), the hatch above him creaked slightly.

Bucky froze. Was it supposed to do that? Probably not. Old houses creaked sometimes, though, and it was tiny. Maybe it was normal. Maybe he’d imagined it. He’d probably imagined it.

It creaked again. This time was much louder and much more alarming.

Shit.

Bucky Barnes was about to die.

***

Beating the shit out of Nazis one by one was nowhere near as therapeutic as smashing a whole cadre and discharging explosives inside their years of hard infiltration work and heavy armory. Still, Natasha felt it was important and had to be done, like tracking down the last cockroach after you’d taken care of the bulk of the infestation. Once Sarah had called Sam, who called Steve, it was really better to take care of the whole plague of Affordable Housing Hydra before they pulled the love of his life out of his fairly secure location and into submachine gun range.

This hadn’t been very easy to explain to Steve, but calmer heads had prevailed and she had prevented the ravening lovebeast from clawing his way through the dirt to his darling’s side the moment they found out where he was. It hadn’t been easy, but Natasha was the best. Still, the moment the last door on the last wagon full of sullen Hydra PTA members had shut, Steve had blasted right across thousands of dollars of landscaping to make a beeline for Bucky.

Natasha followed, a bit more sedately, and stood behind him as he hauled on the lid of a half-rate closet bunker someone must have picked up at Paranoiacs-Are-Us.

“Maybe tearing the bomb shelter open with your bare hands isn’t the best way to thank Sarah’s neighbor for unknowingly saving your boyfriend,” Natasha pointed out after watching him strain for a while, eyes on their surroundings just in case.

Steve ignored her and pulled.

“I have people,” she offered. “You have people. We can open this the sane way.”

“The man I am going to marry is buried in a pit in some lady’s backyard,” Steve panted, shaking out his fingers to get some feeling back. The hatch of the bunker was visibly off-kilter and distended now, but still holding fast. “I will write Sarah’s neighbor a check.” He readjusted his grip, took a deep breath, and heaved.

The hatch tore loose with the wrenching shriek of twisting metal and the crunch of concrete. Natasha winced, and Steve almost fell over with the sudden loss of resistance, but he eagerly regained his balance and reached into the bunker.

And then careened backwards as The Man He Was Going To Marry flew out, shrieking like a terrified rabbit, and rammed Captain America in the face with his full weight behind forty-two inches of iron-hard seasoned maple.

Steve fell on his ass with the grating crunch of bone and a spray of blood, letting out a startled gurgle as he clutched his face and stared at an equally horrified Bucky. They gaped at each other, Bucky dropping his bat and Steve trying to puzzle his jaw back into place, before falling on each other like sobbing teenagers.

“Oh my god baby, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I didn’t know it was you,” Bucky babbled, trying to kiss Steve everywhere he hadn’t just smashed up. “I’m so sorry. I never meant to hurt you. Oh my god.”

“Erm fingh,” Steve was saying through a busted jaw, drooling blood everywhere, batting Bucky’s hands away with one hand and holding his chin with the other. Every so often he spit out his tooth by accident and had to stop to stick it back in, to Bucky’s complete dismay. Natasha quickly stepped out of the splash zone. “Erm fing! Ick dodn’t eyen hurg. Phomish. Aa you ogkay? Ig dey hurg you?”

“Stop talking,” Bucky admonished, looking as miserable as Natasha had ever seen him. “What are you doing, stop talking, oh my god, I need to get you to a hospital.”

“Ngo, ish fing, I on’t gneed a hobital,” Steve protested. He started patting at Bucky’s hair with the hand not holding his broken bones together. Natasha watched, fascinated, as the blood smeared in Bucky’s hair. “Ig’ll heal ong ish owng.”

Are you kidding me,” Bucky managed.

“What the fuck,” a blonde woman shouted at them from a nearby back porch, “did you do to my goddamn bomb shelter?”

Chapter Text

“Stop it,” Bucky muttered, refusing to look up.

Steve startled at that, then just looked confused and tragic. Bucky had to hand it to him--it was difficult to pull off tragic when you looked like you’d gotten your face stuck in a wire hanger manufactory, but Steve worked his tragedy like a champ. The poor guy lay there in his hospital bed, eyes wide and miserable and innocent, and made an inquiring noise.

Bucky couldn’t take it. “No, seriously,” he said, hiding behind the cheap paperback he’d picked up at the gift shop in the five minutes he could pull himself from Steve’s side. He’d kicked off his boots and tucked his feet under the blankets at Steve’s knees, so he only had to shift a little to kick Steve in the leg. “Cut it out.”

Steve’s tragic look only increased, but now it was veering into ‘wounded’ territory.

“Don’t ‘what are you talking about’ me,” Bucky admonished, dropping the book on the table and sitting up to glare.

Taking Steve ‘It’s not an emergency, Ma’am, please take care of the entire building and surrounding neighborhoods first’ Rogers to a hospital had meant hanging out in the lobby all night and tooling around alone freaking out all day until he was allowed back, so Bucky wasn’t exactly at his best. Still, Bucky had spent years developing a look that would stop an over-indulged preschooler filled with eight pounds of sugar in his tracks, and when he shot it at Steve, he got at least a little response. Steve tried to look anywhere but Bucky’s eyes, but Bucky was having none of it. “I know what you’re doing. You’re sitting there full of painkillers and guilt, beating the shit out of yourself, when I’ve already done it for you by accident with a softball sundae to the teeth. Quit it. You’ve had enough.”

Steve frowned and made the mistake of trying to speak through what was probably a full pound of metal plates, screws, and wire holding his jaw in place. Whatever he intended to say only made it out as a horrible gurgle, a gross amount of saliva, and then a mortified look soon after.

“Woah, hey, let me just,” Bucky said, reaching for the hand towel on the side table and getting a lot of embarrassed flailing for his pains. He tried the look again. “Dude, you’re covered in your own spit, just let me—Oh. Oh, that’s way better,” he said, giving up when Steve made an annoyed burble and put the pillow over his face to hide it. “Get your slobber on the pillow where you have to sleep instead. Definitely less embarrassing.”

Steve flipped him the bird.

“See if I climb in there with you tonight,” Bucky sniffed, crossing his arms.

“If you climb in bed with him tonight,” said 70-year-old Terry Darlington in the neighboring bed, “I am going to climb over there, hip surgery and all, and finish the job you started on his face.”

Steve and Bucky both looked up.

Some of us need to rest to recover,” Terry grumbled, settling himself pointedly and pulling the covers tighter. “And let me tell you, it isn’t easy with a pair of drama queens gargling and bitching at each other the whole time.”

Bucky looked at Steve. “We could have gotten a private room,” he complained, flopping back in his chair. “You’re Captain America. They would have given you a private room, all you had to do was ask.”

Steve looked offended at the very idea he would take advantage of his celebrity in such a way.

“It certainly would have made my life easier,” Terry assured them, staring at the ceiling like he could will Thor’s hammer to his hand to blast them off the face of the earth.

Steve frowned and went back to brooding. Bucky tried to ignore it, but Sarah hadn’t been kidding about the Saint Bernard thing. Steve looked like he’d just destroyed the couch and was hiding in the bathtub trying to kill himself with shame and self-loathing.

“Oh for—” Bucky said, dropping his head back. “Steve. You didn’t personally torpedo my life. Everything sucks and my career is over, but it’s not—I don’t blame you.”

Steve didn’t look convinced, but he glanced down to where Bucky had his feet tucked up against him, still.

Bucky followed his gaze and pushed him a little with his foot. “Of course I’m still dating you. Of course I’m still interested. It’s not like breaking up now would help anything, would it? Everything’s already tanked. All breaking up now would do is make me lonely and unemployed.”

That worked about as well as Bucky should have figured; Steve looked like he wanted to throw himself out the window.

“Baby,” Bucky said with feeling, leaning in and taking Steve’s face in his hands. Steve looked up at him through the headgear. “It sucks. It really, really sucks. But it’s not your fault Hydra doesn’t care about civilian bystanders. Anyway, I broke your face, I think we’re kind of even here.” Bucky gave Steve a level stare until he looked away. Bucky let him go. “And I’ve been doing this a while,” he added, forcing cheer. “It will be good to have a career change, and with all the publicity, I’m gonna make a killing when I sell the business.”

Steve didn’t look like he was buying it, but then he made a complicated gesture involving a lot of hand waving and miming a mask. Bucky frowned. Steve tried again, smoothing his hair back and cocking a hip as best he could in a hospital bed.

“Are you…” Bucky squinted. “Is this a seduction?”

It had better not be,” shouted Terry.

Steve tried again, but this one was heavily hampered by the irritated look on his face and made less sense than the last.

“Nah,” Bucky said, shrugging. “I got nothing. You just look like you’re fighting off bats, here.”

Steve made one of his frustrated gurgles and grabbed a pen and paper, writing something hard enough into the pad that he tore the top few sheets. Tony Stark, it said when he turned it so Bucky could see, complete with several underlines and bold block letters.

Bucky stared. “I’m supposed to seduce Tony Stark? Is he even into dudes?”

Steve huffed, exasperated, and grabbed at the pad, but Bucky pulled it out of his reach. “I guess I could try,” Bucky mused, grinning, as Steve grasped at the air like an increasingly angry housecat. “I’m an attractive enough guy. I could use a sugar daddy.”

Steve growled through his headgear and the bedrail crunched under his grip.

“Thanks for the idea, Stevie.” Bucky tapped the pad lightly to his chin, looking thoughtful. “He’s kind of older, but that could be hot. We could have some fun, I could get my bills paid. I’ll make sure to let him know I have your permission.”

Steve upended the bed, the side table, Bucky’s chair and the lamp nearby, and the doctors were going to have to rewire his face back together, but the look of satisfaction he had while scribbling epithets on paper and stuffing the sheets one by one into Bucky’s cackling mouth once he wrestled the pad back said he was willing to pay that price.

And Terry even got a room change after that, so everyone was happy.

***

After Bucky got kicked out of the hospital for “upsetting” the patients, Steve worked extra hard on healing by sheer force of will. According to Natasha, who knew everything and let him know via constant needling texts, this involved being one of the worst patients the staff ever had to deal with, so he was kicked out a lot sooner than anyone had really planned for. Still, by that time he’d been in there for about a week because of all the complications with the serum and titanium plates, and his doctor was very emphatic as he left about getting rest and allowing the healing to finish up.

Obviously the first thing he did was go jogging with Sam.

“Shit,” Sam swore at Steve when he rocked up, face purple and kind of swollen, but hardly the worst Sam had seen him. “Your boyfriend terror-smashed the hell outta your face, and somehow that jawline hasn’t budged an inch. It’s goddamned uncanny.”

“The miracle of modern medicine,” Steve said cheerfully. “But wait to say anything until I start rejecting the stuff screwed in under the gumline again. Apparently it’s going to be pretty ugly for a while—the whole time I’ve been in the hospital was just one big fight against the inevitable until the bones knit together solidly.”

Sam made a face and started running.

Steve made sure to let Sam know he was feeling okay by lapping the hell out of him.

“Any news on Bucky’s job search?” Sam wheezed later, laid out under a tree. “You asshole,” he added when he got his breath back. “Yesterday you had a chain link fence stapled to your face, you couldn’t have taken a cheat day?”

“Every day is a cheat day when the serum does the work,” Steve assured him, but his smile dimmed. “The job search. Yeah. Uh, not so great. Turns out Bucky has a teaching degree lying around he hasn’t used much, so he’s trying to fall back on that, but not a lot of schools are really keen to hire someone who will triple their security issues by walking in the door.”

Sam worked on breathing for a moment, while Steve miserabled as hard as he could. “What about Tony?” Sam tried. “Tony could help?”

“Ehh,” Steve said, sounding uncomfortable, and Sam dragged his eyes back open to squint at him. Steve was shifting from foot to foot. “Tony’s not a big fan of Buck right now.”

“Really?” Sam asked, surprised. He levered himself up enough to get a good look at Steve. “I would have thought the whole,” he gestured vaguely at Steve, who nodded easily enough—it wasn’t a secret he and Tony had a pretty weird relationship going on. “I would have thought it would make him want to impress the shit out of Bucky.”

Steve shrugged with one shoulder and scratched his neck. “Kinda? I mean. He introduced Bucky to Peter, which went really well—Bucky’s great with kids.”

Sam could hear the approaching explosion inherent in the story, but he wasn’t sure where it was coming from. “Did they break something expensive in the labs?”

“No, it’s just,” Steve let out a long breath. “Bucky found out Peter’s fifteen and called CPS on Tony for child endangerment.”

Sam was silent for a long time. “I mean,” he said, “he’s not wrong.”

“No,” Steve agreed. They thought about that for a while, and Steve shook his head. “Pepper says everything is getting sorted out and she’s cramming new compliance standards or something down Tony’s throat, so it should be alright, but in the meantime I’m not really sure I can ask Tony to find Buck a job.”

“Huh,” Sam said. “No. That makes sense.”

“So that’s where we are.” Steve shrugged. “I convinced him to move in with me from a safety standpoint, which is… Well, it’s really nice,” he continued, perking up, but the frown snuck back in pretty quick. “But it would probably be a lot better and all if we’d gotten to that a little slower, and without, you know. Hydra.”

“Yeah,” Sam said, considering. “Yeah, I mean, you’re already moving pretty fast.”

“Well.” Steve made a ‘what can you do’ face. “He’s perfect, so. It’s hard to slow down.” Sam pretended to throw up. Steve rolled his eyes and ignored it, because he was the better man.

“He’s got a teaching degree, you said,” Sam muttered, picking at a grass stain on his sweats. “Experience?”

“Not much. Student teaching and some long-term substituting.” Steve shrugged again. “He started the birthday parties in college and they just ended up paying more for a lot fewer hours.”

“How does he feel about private schools?” Sam asked, tapping his fingers against his knee as he thought.

***

“Hey, Buck.”

Bucky managed a muffled groan, the kind where you try to say something but can’t be assed to actually move your mouth. He heard Steve laugh above him, felt the bed dip to the side under 290 pounds of All-American Beefcake, and then Steve was snugged up against him. Which was, really, right where Bucky preferred him. Bucky made a tired noise again, and this time when Steve laughed, he did it into Bucky’s hair.

Bucky loved when he did that.

“I gotta go,” Steve said, and Bucky groaned and made grabby hands. “No, honey, I gotta. I’m gonna be late as it is.”

“Why did you wake me up,” Bucky moaned, flopping back dramatically and pulling several pillows to himself, “if you’re just gonna leave me?”

“I can’t go without kissing my best guy goodbye,” Steve protested, leaning in to nuzzle at Bucky’s neck. Bucky hummed and opened his eyes enough to take him in when he pulled back. “I have to—”

Bucky screamed and catapulted off the bed backwards.

“What?” Steve asked, alarmed, half an inch of medical-grade titanium sticking sideways out of his jaw like a molting robot. The flesh around the new wound was raw and awful. “What??”

Jesus Christ,” Bucky shouted at him. “What do you mean, ‘what,’ what happened to your fucking face?”

Steve looked confused for a moment, then his expression cleared. “Oh!” He fingered the metal plate, which wiggled his jaw a little since it was still, apparently, attached to the bone. “Yeah, turns out my body rejects titanium. The hospital docs didn’t know, but once they stuck the plates in anyway, they just fought it until the bone was solid and gave up. It’s been really itchy, but otherwise I barely notice.”

Bucky stared, nauseated, as Steve jiggled it like a kid poking at a loose tooth. “That is the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen,” Bucky managed. “Are you going jogging like that?”

“Yep,” Steve said, and bounced in place a little. He ducked in to peck Bucky on the cheek, and Bucky screwed his face up like he was about to be punched and refused to look. Steve was still laughing as he scooped up his keys and left with another kiss.

“Gross,” Bucky complained, pulling the covers back up.

When he finally wandered out to the kitchen, yawning and dragging the blanket with him, Natasha was already there. He squinted at her.

“I’m pretty sure you don’t live here,” he said doubtfully.

“How sure?” she asked.

Bucky considered that. “About 79%,” he said, after weighing it. “I guess I don’t actually know. Turns out I know jack shit about superheroes, to be honest. How did I never figure out you were the Black Widow?”

“Body language,” Natasha said, and stretched out like a cat. Now that she mentioned it, she somehow looked a little more predatory now, her stretch still lazy and graceful, but more deliberate. “Movement. I’m pretty good at what I do. It was definitely more ridiculous that you took so long to twig to Steve.”

“Steve is fucking unreal in person, come on,” Bucky pointed out. He poured a cup of coffee, set it down in front of Natasha, and went back for more. “He doesn’t seem like he can exist. TV and photos don’t do him justice, it barely looks like him.”

“Eh,” Natasha said. She wrapped her hands around the mug and took a sip. “You get used to it.”

Bucky thought about that, too, trying to decide if he would ever get used to how beautiful Steve was. He eventually decided he probably wouldn’t, but was absolutely game to spend a really, really long time trying.

“Didn’t you have an interview yesterday?” Natasha asked, as if she wasn’t sure.

Bucky gave her a look that said super spy or not, he could still see right through her, and she grinned. “Yeah,” he said, settling onto the couch with his coffee. “A fucking weird one.”

Natasha made an inquiring noise and followed him into the lounge room. He scooted over to make room for her on the couch.

“Weird how?” she asked, and Bucky glanced up at something in her voice. He stared at her, hard, and she calmly hid behind her coffee cup.

“Dude was really looking at me, like the whole time,” Bucky said eventually, figuring she would tell him what was up if it was important. “Not like, ‘you’re talking so I’m gonna look at you,’ more like ‘I am counting your nose hairs.’ And he seemed, I dunno…half a second behind the conversation, like he was really concentrating on something else and wasn’t paying his full attention to what I said—but the dude was counting my nose hairs, who the fuck else was he paying attention to?”

Natasha looked like it was her birthday. Bucky watched as she lit up with a delighted smile, the one she got whenever he put his foot in it, and said, “Were you thinking about that during the interview? Please tell me that was at the forefront of your mind the entire time.”

Bucky had no idea what he’d done, but at least Natasha was happy about it. “Not the whole time. The rest of it I was mostly thinking about how creepy this weird bald guy’s stare was.”

Natasha was incandescent with joy at this point. “Please tell me you spent a little time daydreaming about Steve,” she demanded, leaning forward and completely abandoning her coffee cup.

“Of course I spent some of it daydreaming about Steve,” he said. “I spend roughly 10% of all my time daydreaming about Steve.”

“Was it really explicit?” Natasha asked, and now Bucky was giving her the hairy eyeball. “What exactly were you thinking?”

“Well,” Bucky said, carefully moving another few inches away from her, “Now I’m thinking about how creepy you’re being, so.”

“One more question.” Natasha raised both her hands in surrender. “One more and I’m done. Did the name Xavier ring any bells for you whatsoever.”

“Yeah, sure,” Bucky said. “It’s the same as OH SHIT.”

Steve and I have a consult with him about Suburban Hydra tomorrow,” Natasha crowed, making jazz hands. “Steve, who you were having super explicit sex fantasies about directly into his mind-reader brain. Steve is going to have a meeting with Professor Charles Xavier, and Xavier is going to have a crystal-clear, up close mental picture of Steve doing you over the back of this couch.”

Bucky made a sound like a dying frog and covered his face with his hands.

“The best part,” Natasha informed him, pulling her knees up and taking her coffee again, “is that you'll have to tell him, because you're going to be so weird about it Steve will worry. And so throughout the entire meeting, Xavier is going to watch Steve sweating bullets trying not to think about what sex scene Xavier knows about, and failing. Failing so badly he thinks of nothing but your dick the whole meeting. And I get to watch.”

“You're a monster,” Bucky groaned. He wiped his face. “I can't believe I tanked my first chance at a job after this by repeatedly insulting the interviewer and showing him pornography.”

“I can,” Natasha assured him.

“What are you going to be thinking about during this whole disaster?” Bucky asked, heaving himself upright to put his mug in the sink.

“Probably how much I want popcorn,” Natasha said.

***

“Hi, professor,” Steve said. “Can you wait a sex—SEC. Can you wait a minute, Natasha fuckgot FORGOT HER PHONE.”

“Of course,” Xavier managed, staring at the titanium plate dangling from Steve’s jaw by a single screw.

***

“So the bad news,” Steve told Bucky when he got home, “is that—”

I can’t even look at you.”

Steve paused, thrown. Bucky had clapped a hand over his eyes and was leaning heavily on the counter of the kitchen island, groaning. “Is this still about the plate?” Steve asked, brows furrowing. “Are you still weirded out by the plate? Bucky, my body is healing. It doesn’t hurt.”

You have it hanging out of your skin like a lever handled doorknob,” Bucky said, making the mistake of looking up at him. He blanched and snapped his eyes immediately back down again. “You look like a robot sneezed right through your face.”

Steve rolled his eyes and hung up his coat. “You're the only one who has a problem with it,” he complained, shaking the plastic hanger a little so the shoulders of the coat hung right. “It's not that big a deal. No one else had said a thing.”

“Everyone has a problem with it, Steve,” Bucky assured him, hands firmly over his eyes again. “It's just that no one else can figure out how to tell you.”

Steve huffed out a breath. “Look, if it's such a huge problem, I'll just—” he grunted, and there was a sound like a piece of celery run across a cheese grater.

Bucky was silent for a while, not looking up. “You just pulled it out like a loose tooth, didn’t you.”

“It was almost out!” Steve protested. “And it’s all you would talk about!”

“Because you had shrapnel sticking out of your face!” Bucky said, finally looking up in horror. “And now you have a big hole in it instead, oh my god, Stevie!”

“Quit making such a fuss over the dumb plate, Bucky!”

Quit avoiding seeing a doctor for days on end then tearing medical equipment out of your face, then, Steven!

If you’re going to be mad at me,” Steve shouted, flinging his hands in the air, “stop pretending it’s about four stupid inches of metal and admit it’s because I fucked everything over and destroyed your life!

There was silence. Bucky stared at him, his mouth open, unable to say anything to that. Steve felt the metaphorical hole in his gut gape a little wider.

“Just be mad at me for screwing everything up,” Steve said quietly, stuffing his hands in his pockets and looking anywhere but Bucky. “I know you’re mad you lost your business and your apartment. I know you feel weird about moving in to my place after two dates. Just be mad.”

“Baby.” Bucky made his way over and pulled Steve to him. “Honey. I am furious this all happened, but I’m not furious at you. It’s okay, baby. We’re okay.”

Steve didn’t take his hands out of his pockets. “I should have known this would happen,” he protested. “Natasha even warned me. I should have known and been more careful.”

“I live in this world, too,” Bucky said, pressing their foreheads together. “I know what happens when people get excited about something. I should have known just as much as you did.” Steve let out a long breath, and Bucky smiled at him. “It’s alright. I swear. I really am just enormously grossed out by your experimental jaw piercings.”

Steve closed his eyes and leaned against him, swallowing. “I keep waiting for it,” he admitted, but couldn’t say anything more.

Bucky nodded, but said, “You’re gonna be waiting for a long time, sweetheart. Yeah, this is fast, yeah, everything is hell. But yeah. I want to be here with you anyway.”

“Okay,” Steve sighed, and set his hands on Bucky’s hips, hesitant. Bucky ‘hm’ed appreciatively. “Okay. Hey. So. Uh, Professor Xavier says he’d like to have you come in. Work with the younger kids at the school.”

Bucky pulled away and eyed him, clearly trying to figure out if Steve was fucking with him. “I graphically pictured eating your cock right in front of him,” he said.

“And then I spent another hour with him thinking about the same thing,” Steve agreed. “But apparently he’s really excited to have someone who actually has teaching credentials for once.”

Bucky bit his lip. “There’s going to be amazing security at that school,” he said thoughtfully.

“I mean,” Steve admitted, “a lot of the kids will be able to set you on fire with their minds, though.”

“Pff,” Bucky said. “Not the worst I’ve had. This is good news. I can get behind this.” He frowned. “You said you had bad news, though.”

“I mean,” Steve said, turning fire-engine red, his ears looking like they might explode. “Uh. Well, the bad news is that your future boss knows exactly how you give head, what noises you make while you’re doing it, and everything that’s been in your ass in the past three weeks. And is likely to continue knowing. For the rest of your time at the school.”

Bucky looked into the middle distance. “Yeah,” he agreed. “Yeah, that’s bad news.”

Chapter Text

“So if seventeen students each bring thirty-three notes to class and get caught passing them,” Bucky asked, pointing with a whiteboard marker, “how many notes am I going to throw away? Terrence?”

“All of them,” Terrence chirped.

Bucky paused, marker at the ready, then turned back away from the board with one of the looks he’d stolen from Natasha. “Correct,” Bucky told Terrance, raising an eyebrow. “Now figure out the answer I want you to give, and tell me that one. Also quit passing notes in class.”

Terrence grinned in response, completely unrepentant.

“We’re not really up to thirty-three a day yet, Mr. Barnes,” Saud blurted, half-folded note actually sitting in her actual hand. “You definitely catch us before we get that far.”

“Toss it,” Bucky ordered, and she giggled. He watched her until she decided he was probably serious, then tossed it backwards over her shoulder in a perfect arc to the trash can.

Where it caught on fire.

“Oops,” Terrence yelped, running for the fire extinguisher. The rest of the class didn’t bat an eye as he sprayed the entire contents into the bin.

“Look,” Bucky told them. “Next time I see you passing notes, I will start correcting your spelling on them.”

“Aw, Mr. Barnes,” Terrence protested, as he wiped excess fire suppressant from his sneakers.

“Get to work,” Bucky said without sympathy, and the students all groaned and opened their notebooks. Bucky waited until they were focused on the assigned problem, then crouched down next to the redhead in the fourth table group. “Destiny,” he said quietly, “you gotta stop licking the desk. You already know what it tastes like.”

Destiny blinked her second set of eyelids at him. “It’s a reflex, Mr. Barnes!” she swore. “I can’t help it, it’s instinct!”

“It’s unhygienic,” Bucky said, holding his ground.

Destiny stuck her bottom lip out.

“MR. BARNES!” Saud shouted as she leapt to her feet and her chair toppled backwards. “TERRENCE SET HIS PENCIL ON FIRE AGAIN.”

“I didn’t mean to!”

Bucky rolled his eyes and went to grab one of the many backup fire extinguishers he kept under the desk.

***

“I love this job,” Bucky said, collapsing on the couch. He groaned like he was dying and dropped his feet heavily onto the coffee table, ignoring Steve’s amused snort. “But I just don’t have the energy for putting out children’s literal and metaphorical fires and the commute to Westfield. Either we move halfway between our respective workplaces, or I move into Xavier’s mansion.”

That wiped the smile right off Steve’s face. “But Brooklyn,” he said plaintively.

“It’s two hours of my life every day,” Bucky told him. He dropped his head back, eyes barely staying open. “And fuuuuuuuuck Brooklyn.”

Steve looked scandalized.

“Xavier’s mansion has security,” Bucky mused, and let his eyes drift shut. “I could live at the mansion. It would take, what, five minutes to get to my classroom every day? I could live with that. That would be nice.”

There was a pointed silence from Steve. Then, “I know you love kids, but if you had to deal with prepubescent relationship drama 24/7, I’m pretty sure you would end up in the news again after you threw yourself off the roof.”

“Point,” Bucky said, making finger guns without opening his eyes.

“And how would I give you supersoldier shoulder massages when you get home if you don’t live here?” Steve asked, and Bucky could hear him switching over mentally to actually trying to convince him. A moment later, Steve’s soft footsteps came closer and he set a mug of hot chocolate on the tabletop.

“Hmm.” Bucky pretended to consider that. “On the other hand,” he reasoned, “I wouldn’t be stressed out from my commute and in such need of them. It might even out.”

“Oh? Yeah? No stress at work, then?” Steve sounded skeptical. “Didn’t someone set your whiteboard on fire with his brain yesterday?”

“Yes, okay,” Bucky conceded. “But he was very sorry afterwaaaaarrrrrrds okay never stop doing that.”

“Hmm,” Steve mimicked, and dug his fingertips into the tight muscles around Bucky’s neck. It was like magic, and Bucky was pretty sure it was cheating—he went completely boneless every time and could barely string together a coherent sentence. Steve had realized this power a few days ago, and had immediately turned it to winning every disagreement that had come up. So far, Bucky had somehow agreed that:
• Coffee made on the stove tasted just fine
• Ketchup and eggs totally didn’t need to be refrigerated
• Everything was too salty these days
• Elvis was a musical travesty

“Okay,” Bucky moaned, helpless against Dr. Erskine’s engineering directed at every physical sign of distress he had. “You win.”

Steve made a smug sound of triumph.

“And besides.” Bucky flopped forward, sure he looked like a rag doll in a completely unironic teacher cardigan, but not caring. “I couldn’t handle having sex with you ever again if there was even the smallest chance of a student walking in. We would just be celibate for the rest of my working life. The horror would be way too much to ever risk.”

Steve found a particularly amazing spot and Bucky lost his train of thought for a full minute before he found it again.

“But I might not get it up very often anyway if I’m overtired is all,” Bucky admitted.

Steve’s smug noise stopped “Maybe…” he said slowly, “maybe we can move closer to Westfield.”

“Hmmmmmmplaaaaaaan,” Bucky agreed, sure he’d be pleased about winning later, and sagged face first into the couch.